'I'm really sorry': Tennessee death row inmate Billy Ray Irick executed Thursday evening

FILE - In this Aug. 16, 2010 file photo, 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. The Tennessee Supreme Court has refused to stay Thursday's Aug. 9, 2018, scheduled execution of the convicted child killer while the state's new lethal injection protocol continues to be challenged on appeal. The order brings Tennessee within days of killing Irick with a three-drug cocktail, barring some last-minute change. (Michael Patrick/The Knoxville News Sentinel via AP, File)

UPDATE (Thursday night):

Billy Ray Irick, the man sentenced to death in 1986 for raping and murdering a 7-year-old Knoxville girl, has been executed.

The Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) made the announcement Thursday evening.

The 59-year-old inmate received a three-drug injection at the Riverbend Maximum Security prison in Nashville.

Witnesses to Tennessee's first execution in nearly a decade say inmate Billy Ray Irick at first signaled he would have no last words, but then gave a brief statement to those watching.

Journalists present reported that the blinds between a witness room and the execution chamber were opened at 7:26 p.m. CT Thursday, and about a minute later, Irick was asked if he had any words before the lethal injection drugs began flowing.

At first he appeared to sigh and say "no." But then he said, "I just want to say I'm really sorry and that, that's it."

A minute later, his eyes closed. Snoring and heavy breathing were heard. Then at 7:34 p.m., there was coughing, huffing and deep breaths. An attendant began yelling "Billy" and checked the inmate and grabbed his shoulder, but there didn't seem to be any reaction. Two minutes later, Irick was not making any noise and began to turn dark purple.

He was pronounced dead at 7:48 p.m. CT.

Witnesses to the execution included Knox County Sheriff Jimmy "J.J." Jones, Irick's attorney C. Eugene Shiles, and Deputy Attorney General Scott Sutherland.

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III released the following statement tonight on the execution:

“The death penalty is constitutional and it is the law of the State of Tennessee. It has taken decades and multiple court hearings, but justice was finally served for the murder and aggravated rape of 7-year-old Paula Dyer. Justice was delayed too long for this little girl and her family. 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 difficult.”

Watch our 11 p.m. report below.

You can read more about the history of the case, and how Tennesseans are responding to it below.

Depend on us to keep you posted as we learn more.


On Thursday evening, the state of Tennessee is scheduled to execute Billy Ray Irick.

In 1986, a judge sentenced Irick to death after a jury found him guilty of the rape and murder of 7-year-old Paula Dyer.

For the next three decades, Irick and his attorney's were granted stays, delays, and reviews of his execution.

In 2010, Irick was granted a stay based on claims that he was mentally incompetent to be be executed.

The Tennessee supreme court rescheduled his execution to October 2014 on the basis that he was mentally competent.

In 2015, his execution was once again delayed.

His attorneys filing that the single drug lethal injection using pentobarbital was unconstitutional.

The State Supreme Court has refused to hear the case.

Governor Bill Haslam also refused to intervene.

On Thursday afternoon, the United States Supreme Court also denied a stay in the execution.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a blistering dissent, recounting details from a recent state court trial of a case brought by inmates contesting Tennessee's execution drugs.

"In refusing to grant Irick a stay, the Court today turns a blind eye to a proven likelihood that the State of Tennessee is on the verge of inflicting several minutes of torturous pain on an inmate in its custody," Sotomayor wrote. "... 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."

In Tennessee, people on both sides of the death penalty debate voiced their opinions ahead of Irick's execution.

Member of the Catholic Church, Denise Morrow, told NewsChannel 9, "we believe in respect for life and there's always a chance for redemption."

Just last week, Pope Francis issued a new declaration regarding the church's stance on the death penalty.

It reads:

Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.
Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.
Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that "the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person", [1] and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.

Father David Carter of the Basilica of Saints Peter & Paul in Chattanooga said Thursday, "It's not for us to step in and play God and i think that's the danger that the Pope is clearly teaching us to avoid."

Abigail Zora has a different take.

"I think it's up to the family of the one who's been murdered, whether that would be life in prison or execution," Zora said.

The Diocese of Knoxville voiced their objection to the death penalty in a statement released Thursday.

It reads,

The state has the obligation to protect all people and to impose just punishment for crimes, but in the modern world the death penalty is not required for either of these ends.

Zora believes the death penalty should be assessed on a case by case basis and can be used to bring a family closure if they so desire.

"Considering its a 7-year-old girl that's been raped and murdered, that's pretty horrific... I would think for the family that it would be closure for them and that it should be up to them," Zora said.

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