Maker of Electric Chair This Man Will Die in Is Concerned

Edmund Zagorski is scheduled to die Thursday in Tennessee
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 31, 2018 9:50 AM CDT
One 'Wrench' in Planned Tennessee Execution
This undated file photo shows death row inmate Edmund Zagorski.   (Tennessee Department of Correction via AP, File)

(Newser) – Edmund Zagorski is officially on death watch in Tennessee ahead of his planned Thursday execution. He'll be under surveillance for 24 hours in a cell next to the execution chamber as he awaits his death by electric chair, reports the AP. But there's one hiccup in terms of the death moving forward: US District Judge Aleta Trauger on Monday ruled the 63-year-old can only be executed if his lawyer has "immediate access to a telephone during the time preceding and during the execution." State attorneys had resisted the request, which was filed Friday, calling it too late. The Tennessean describes it as a "wrench in the state's plans," but one that's easily solved by granting him use of a cellphone or landline. But that may not be the only wrench. More:

  • The maker of the chair that would be used to put Zagorski to death is worried it may not work. Fred Leuchter is described by the AP as a "self-taught execution expert" who between 1979 and 1990 worked on electric chairs, gas chambers, lethal injection machines, and a gallows for at least 27 states. But he then claimed there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz, and in the controversy over that statement it emerged that he didn't have an engineering degree or license.
  • His issue with Tennessee's chair, which he rebuilt in 1988 and was used just once, in 2007, is that others have worked on it after him, and they might have introduced faults. "What I'm worried about now is Tennessee's got an electric chair that's going to hurt someone or cause problems. And it's got my name on it," Leuchter said. "I don't think it's going to be humane."
  • As far as electric chair usage in the US goes, Fordham University professor Deborah Denno describes "a history of botches that has only gotten worse." The AP cites three: Two in Florida in the 1990s in which smoke and flames shot out from the inmates' heads, and a 1999 incident in which blood emerged from under an inmate's mask. The Supreme Court was supposed to consider whether the chair's use constituted cruel and unusual punishment, but the case was dropped when Florida transitioned to lethal injection.
  • As for how the chair is supposed to kill Zagorski, the Tennessean reports he'll receive 35 seconds total of two 1,750-volt shocks. It compares that to the 18 minutes it can take someone to die via lethal injection.
  • The Tennessean details the full process here, which includes attaching four salt-brine-soaked sponges to Zagorski's ankles to increase conductivity.
  • Read more on why Zagorski, who was sentenced to die for killing two men in 1983, had the option of death by electric chair here.
(Read more electric chair stories.)

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