Tennessee to execute child killer on death row for 30 years

Supreme Court rejects appeal to prevent execution by lethal injection on Friday

Death row inmate Billy Ray Irick’s lawyers argued that he has “a lifelong severe mental illness”.

Death row inmate Billy Ray Irick’s lawyers argued that he has “a lifelong severe mental illness”.


The US Supreme Court on Thursday denied a last-ditch petition seeking to halt the execution by Tennessee of a 59-year-old man convicted of the 1985 rape and murder of a seven-year-old girl he was babysitting.

The decision clears the path for lethal injection and came just hours before the state was set to put Billy Irick to death at 1.00am Friday, Irish time, at the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville. The execution would be the first in the state since 2009 and the 15th this year in the United States.

Lawyers for Irick, who has spent more than 30 years on death row, said he has suffered from psychosis for his entire life. They argued that putting him to death would violate legal norms barring the execution of people with severe mental disorders or disabilities.

He was convicted of raping and strangling Paula Dyer in Knoxville. Irick had been a boarder in the home where the girl lived with her mother, stepfather and siblings.

Irick’s lawyers have argued for nearly 20 years that his original counsel, who no longer represents him, failed at his murder trial to present a long history of violent and psychotic behaviour. This which included Irick being institutionalised as a child.

“Irick has a lifelong severe mental illness which manifested in early childhood and was present before and during the offense for which he was convicted, the rape and murder of . . . Paula Dyer,” they wrote in their Supreme Court filing submitted earlier this week.

Tennessee state prosecutors have said Irick knew what he was doing was wrong. They argued he is competent to be executed and did not properly raise the mental illness claim in state court.

“There is no general trend in banning executions for those with severe mental illness,” they wrote in their Supreme Court filing.

Irick and other death row inmates are also challenging the state’s lethal injection mix, which contains the sedative midazolam, a Valium-like drug used in troubled lethal injections in other states.

Lawyers contend it does not achieve the level of unconsciousness required for surgery and is unsuitable for lethal injections, where other drugs are used to cause cardiac arrest. – Reuters