Supreme Court won't hear death row inmate's appeal

Billy Ray Irick (Photo: Tennessee Department of Corrections)

Tennessee's first execution in nearly a decade is now just hours away.

Death row Inmate Billy Ray Irick has exhausted all of his appeals and is scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection at 7 p.m. Thursday.

Irick was convicted of raping and killing a 7-year-old Knoxville girl back in 1985.

Irick's attorneys made one last-ditch effort to stop the execution by reaching out to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court denied the motion.READ BRIEF: Motion for stay of execution | Supreme Court motion to deny appeal | Justice Sotomayor dissention opinionSupreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a dissenting opinion on the application for the stay of execution.

"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, while shrouding his suffering behind a veneer of paralysis," Sotomayor wrote. "I cannot in good conscience join in this 'rush to execute' without first seeking every assurance that our precedent permits such a result.

"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. I dissent."

Both the Tennessee Supreme Court and Gov. Bill Haslam have denied staying the execution.

Most Rev. Richard F. Stika, Bishop of Knoxville, and Most Rev. J. Mark Spalding, Bishop of Nashville, issued a joint statement after the Supreme Court's order was released."We, the Catholic bishops of the Dioceses of Knoxville and Nashville, charged with shepherding the people of our state from the Tennessee River in the west to the mountains in the east, join to voice our strong objection to the execution of Billy Ray Irick, even though his brutal rape and murder of seven-year-old Paula Dyer is among the most heinous of crimes.

"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. 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."

"We pray that God’s healing mercy will provide consolation and everlasting peace to Paula Dyer and her family. We pray for the same mercy, consolation, and peace for Billy Ray Irick and his family. We pray for a conversion of hearts to put an end to the practice of the death penalty in all cases and for an increase of the respect for life in all stages from conception until natural death."Advocates against Irick's execution have said he suffers from severe mental illness.

Former Justice Gary Wade, who oversaw four executions during his time on the Tennessee Supreme Court, said he is confident the execution will proceed.

"While I personally understand the reluctance with the history of mental illness on the part of Mr. Irick, that issue has been resolved time and again," said Wade to NBC affiliate WBIR.

Irick is one of 32 inmates challenging the use of lethal injection. It was cleared by a Tennessee judge two weeks ago, but that decision is being appealed. The appeal will not take place before the scheduled execution.

Irick was moved to death watch late Monday night ahead of his scheduled execution. Death watch is the three-day period before an execution. During this time, the inmate is placed in a cell next to the execution chamber and remains under 24-hour observation by a team of officers.

The planned execution is not sitting well with several groups across the state. A number of vigils have been scheduled for Thursday, including one at Fisk Memorial Chapel at 6:30 p.m. Additional vigils are being held in Knoxville and Memphis.

Irick has selected a "super deluxe combo" for his last meal. This includes a super deluxe burger, onion rings and a Pepsi. He was served the meal at 3 p.m.

The official witnesses for the execution will be the following:

MEDIA WITNESSES Johnathan Mattise, The Associated Press Damon Lawrence, Roane County News Brittany Tarwater, WVLT Jamie Satterfield, Knoxville News Sentinel Steven Hale, Nashville Scene Dave Boucher, The Tennessean John North, WBIRATTORNEY WITNESS FOR INMATE IRICK C. Eugene ShileSHERIFF (COUNTY OF CONVICTION) Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” JonesOFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL Deputy Attorney General Scott SutherlandThe last execution in Tennessee was in December 2009. Cecil Johnson had been convicted of three counts of first-degree murder in Davidson County.

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