Tennessee News

Billy Ray Irick executed for 1985 rape, murder of 7-year-old girl

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) - Billy Ray Irick was put to death Thursday for the 1985 rape and murder of a Knox County 7-year-old girl.

Irick was pronounced dead at 7:48 p.m. Central time after being administered a three-drug lethal injection.

Witnesses say his last words were "I just want to say I'm really sorry, and that's it." 

"His eyes started to close around 7:28, for an extended period of time he sounded like he was snoring, breathing heavily," said Jonathan Mattise, with the Associated Press. "At about 7:34, after some coughing and puffing, deep breathes, one of the men in the suits began yelling 'Billy' twice, went up and checked him, grabbed his shoulder, there did not appear to be a reaction. 

Immediately after, the drug protocol began, Irick closed his eyes and began breathing heavily and snoring. Witnesses believe his last breath came at 7:37 p.m.

Earlier on Thursday, Irick exhausted his last appeal, after the United States Supreme Court denied his petition for a stay of execution on Thursday afternoon.

Irick's attorneys had filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus to Justice Elena Kagan. 

Irick was put to death for raping and murdering 7-year-old Paula Dyer in Knoxville in 1985. 

Irick's attorneys responded to the state's rejection of previous appeals and implored the U.S. Supreme court to adopt a new constitutional rule that would prevent his execution. 

On Wednesday, the Tennessee solicitor general's office responded to Irick's attorney's petition, saying that Irick had exhausted his state appeals and was outside the time limits required for habeas corpus action by the U.S Supreme Court.

Read More: Former Tennessee Supreme Court justice shares history of death penalty

Thursday, Irick's attorney replied to the state's response, requesting the Supreme Court announce a new constitutional rule interpreting the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. The Eighth Amendment deals with cruel and unusual punishment, while the Fourteenth pertains to civil rights. 

Atkins v. Virginia,  a case cited by Irick's attorney's, is a 2002 case in which the Supreme Court ruled that executing people with intellectual disabilities violates the Eighth Amendment. Another cited case, Roper v. Simmons, held that it is unconstitutional to impose the death penalty on crimes committed under the age of 18.

Read More: A Look Back: Billy Ray Irick to be executed for 1985 murder of 7-year-old Paula Dyer

The state argued that Irick was obligated to raise his claim of mental illness by June 1998 at the latest. Irick's attorneys argued that the time limit shouldn't matter because the two landmark cases, that dealt with "the evolving standards of decency when it comes to executions," weren't decided until 2002 and 2005, after the deadline.

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