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'Let's rock': The last words of a double-murderer who chose the electric chair over lethal injection

Edmund Zagorski (Tennessee Department of Corrections)

"Let's rock," he said from a death chamber within Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville.

Those were Edmund Zagorski's final words before the jolts of electrical current shot through his body. His hands remained clenched, except for his pinky fingers. They were either dislocated or broken, his attorney would later say, from straining against the straps of the electric chair in which Zagorski, 63, died Thursday, Nov. 1, at 7:26 p.m. local time.

The state put the double-murderer to death by electrocution, spurning lethal injection at his request. His death made him the first inmate in five years to perish in the electric chair - and only the second in Tennessee since 1960. Daryl Holton, a Gulf War veteran who killed his four children in a marital dispute, opted for the electric chair in 2007.

Tennessee is among only a handful of states where the electric chair is still an option in executions. Prisoners who committed their crimes before 1999 may choose to die by electrical voltage instead of a cocktail of drugs. Thirty states allow some form of capital punishment. One of them is Pennsylvania, where federal prosecutors have begun the process of seeking a possible death sentence against Robert Bowers, the man accused of gunning down 11 congregants in a Pittsburgh synagogue, should he be convicted on certain charges.

Zagorski was convicted in 1984 of first-degree premeditated murder for luring two men into a wooded area under the pretense of a marijuana deal, and then shooting them and slitting their throats.

In a legal battle that reached the U.S. Supreme Court last month, Zagorski sought to elude capital punishment based on the Eighth Amendment's ban on "cruel and unusual punishments." Between ways in which he could die, though, he favored the electric chair over lethal injection, in a repudiation of a method seen by some as more humane and technologically advanced, despite a pattern of problems.

"By signing this affidavit I am not conceding that electrocution is constitutional. I believe both lethal injection and electrocution violate my rights under the 8th amendment," Zagorski wrote last month. "However, if I am not granted a stay of execution by the courts, as between two unconstitutional choices I choose electrocution."

He reasoned that death at the end of a syringe could mean as long as 18 minutes in "utter terror and agony," whereas the electric chair would quickly stop his heart.

At first, the state rejected his request, saying it had come too late. After a federal judge put a hold on the execution, however, officials reversed course. The governor, Republican Bill Haslam, ordered a 10-day delay to prepare use of the electric chair. The state confirmed that it would carry out Zagorski's death sentence by electrocution, "based upon his waiver of his right to be executed by lethal injection," as the warden of the prison wrote to the inmate's attorney last month.

This article was written by Isaac Stanley-Becker, a reporter for The Washington Post.