(NOTE: After this story was written, a federal appeals court in a very surprising move granted a request to delay Edmund Zagorski’s execution late Wednesday night, which was scheduled for Thursday. While the result of the order remains uncertain, it is possible the Supreme Court could rule on the delay and the execution could move forward.
Zagorski’s attorneys had asked federal courts to reconsider unexamined claims of ineffective trial counsel. The federal district court in Nashville rejected that argument Tuesday but a panel of 6th Circuit judges said the argument was provocative enough to merit full consideration.To do that, they said, a stay was necessary.)
In the 34 years that Edmund Zagorski has been on death row in Nashville’s Riverbend Maximum Security prison, two very distinct things have never happened. He has never been “written up” for any untoward behavior -- not once -- and, after murdering two men in a botched drug deal in 1984, he has never had one visitor. Not one. Tonight, barring an eleventh-hour stay, he is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection.
For much of my adult life, I have been torn by mankind’s greatest question – should we have the death penalty? I thought Governor Bill Haslam may grant clemency earlier this week. That Zagorski has been a model prisoner, that he’s endured a 34-year wait due to 22 separate appeals, and because “life without parole” wasn’t an option when he was sentenced, I figured the 63-year-old finally might catch a break.
For whatever reason, Tennessee’s governor decided against interfering with the sentence and I thank God that such a decision didn’t fall on me for judgement. Let’s not kid ourselves, Zagorski killed two men in cold blood, later slit their throats, and shot a lawman once he was cornered in Ohio. A judge and a jury in Robertson County sentenced him to death and I believe that’s well within the law, in Tennessee as well as 32 other states.
Then again, I totally disagree that justice was served by forcing him to sit in solitary confinement for over half of his life. I believe that is torture – a horrid whipping of psychological proportion – yet it is part of the progress to make sure the killer is treated fairly, and that we don’t kill the innocent. I don’t know how to get around such an abomination but to finally kill a man after keeping him in an 8 foot by 10 cell for three and a half decades isn’t right in my eyes, nor in the sight of anyone I know.
What is right? In June of this year a judge in California sentenced a man to die for brutally torturing an eight-year-old to death. In decency I will spare you the sadistic details but I really feel strongly that I could take my station in a firing squad to rid this world of such twisted vermin. I could pull my trigger with no qualms – so help me I could -- yet try to champion as many “second chances” as I can find.
Yes, the death penalty is one of my biggest inward struggles. Could I sentence death when there was no killing? I really wonder. How about a 9/11 terrorist? In a heartbeat. How about a college rapist? I would need to know more. What if the girl was 15? Hand me my rifle. Obviously my death vote would be case-by-case but we should be like other countries – fulfill the sentence promptly.
Graham Reside, an ethics and society professor at Vanderbilt Divinity School, told a reporter in Nashville, "It's a question of authority," Reside explained. "Where do you place your authority?"
For instance, Evangelical Christians place theirs in the Bible instead of denominational leaders. Roman Catholics put theirs in scripture as well as church teachings.
And what makes it even harder? “The Bible is ambiguous on the death penalty," said Reside. “That means believers can interpret scripture to be both in support of and against it,” he said.
The majority of Americans support the death penalty. Fifty-four percent said they favor it for those convicted of murder, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in April and May.
Not so long ago a Pew Research Center report found 54 percent of Americans agreed the death penalty could be used in capital murder cases and, yes, religion plays a big role in the thought process:
* -- 73 percent of white evangelical Protestants support the death penalty; 19 percent oppose it.
* -- 61 percent of white mainline Protestants support it; 30 percent oppose it.
* -- 53 percent of Catholics support it; 42 percent oppose it.
* -- 45 percent of the religiously unaffiliated support it; 48 percent oppose it.
* -- Less than half of black Protestants (37%) and Hispanic Catholics (43%) favor the death penalty.
In the last few days Zagorski petitioned the court for death by the electric chair after there was some belief a recent execution by injection didn’t work and the victim suffered before death. Some believe the request was a last-second ploy by Zagorski’s attorney and the request was denied. As this is written, Zagorski has about 24 hours to live after sitting on death row for 34 years.
He has turned down a “final meal” and has said he is glad it is almost over, a sentiment lost on no one.