Reporter describes Bill Ray Irick's final words

Billy Ray Irick on death row for raping and killing a 7-year-old girl in 1985 appears in a Knox County criminal courtroom in Knoxville Tenn. arguing that he's too mentally ill to be executed by the state

Billy Ray Irick on death row for raping and killing a 7-year-old girl in 1985 appears in a Knox County criminal courtroom in Knoxville Tenn. arguing that he's too mentally ill to be executed by the state

Hours before the execution, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a petition by Irick's lawyers to spare his life.

Irick and several other death row inmates sued early this year to halt the execution, arguing that the state's new death cocktail, including the controversial sedative midazolam, would be tantamount to torture and a violation of the Constitution's prohibition against "cruel and unusual punishment".

He was pronounced dead at 7:48 p.m. The valium-like drug has been used in executions in other states, a few of which were botched.

The group, Tennesseans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (TADP), organized vigils in Nashville, Memphis, and Knoxville before Irick was put to death at 8:47 p.m. EDT.

Before the lethal drugs were injected, Irick said, "I just want to say I'm really sorry and that, that's it".

Tennessee carried out its first execution of the year, putting to death a man convicted of raping and killing a 7-year-old girl 32 years after his conviction. Since then, the state has endured legal challenges and difficulties finding execution chemicals, including its previous drug, pentobarbital.

He was convicted in the murder and rape of a 7-year-old girl named Paula Dyer, in 1986.

On Monday, the state Supreme Court also had refused to block Irick's execution, saying the lawsuit filed by inmates involving the execution drugs wasn't likely to succeed. "If the law permits this execution to go forward in spite of the horrific final minutes that Irick may well experience, then we have stopped being a civilized nation and accepted barbarism", she wrote.

Ms Henry said in a statement on Thursday night (local time) that witness observations suggest the midazolam did not render Irick fully unconscious, and those accounts were "indicative of pulmonary edema" from the drug.

Attorneys for the state have said the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the use of midazolam in a three-drug series.

"I hope tonight's lawful execution in some way eases the heartache Paula's family has lived with and brings a degree of closure to a chapter of their lives that has been indescribably hard", Slatery said in the statement.

Faith leaders and death penalty opponents led a protest rally Tuesday against Tennessee's execution plans for Irick.

Supporters and opponents of the death penalty turned out Thursday evening in places around the state. Tennessee is one of 15 states siding with the state of Nevada against the company, though Tennessee is planning to use a version of the drug that is compounded, not directly purchased from a manufacturer. We echo the words of Pope Francis, who recently declared as definitive teaching that "in light of the Gospel", the death penalty is unacceptable in all cases "because it attacks the dignity of the person, a dignity that is not lost even after having committed the most serious crimes." .

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