Sutton opts for the electric chair

FILE - This photo provided by Tennessee Department of Correction shows Nicholas Sutton. Tennessee death row inmate Nicholas Sutton has chosen to die by the electric chair, making him the fifth inmate in a little over a year to choose electrocution over the state's preferred execution method of lethal injection. Sutton, sentenced to death in 1985 for stabbing fellow inmate Carl Estep after a confrontation over a drug deal, is scheduled to be executed on Feb. 20. (Tennessee Department of Correction via AP)

A Tennessee inmate from Hamblen County has chosen the electric chair for his scheduled execution next month, opting like four other inmates in little more than a year for electrocution over the state’s preferred execution method of lethal injection.

Nicholas Sutton, 58, is scheduled to be put to death Feb. 20.

While serving a life sentence in Brushy Mountain State Prison, Sutton reportedly stabbed Carl Inman 38 times over a failed in-prison deal for marijuana. A retired prison guard who witnessed the killing said it appeared Sutton, who was 23, tried to cut the man’s heart from his chest.

Sutton was in prison after he beat his grandmother, wrapped her in a sheet and tossed her into a stream in winter to die. He was 18 at the time.

He reportedly killed her because she had discovered he had murdered two people in North Carolina.

In a clemency petition sent last week to Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, Sutton’s attorneys argue Sutton transformed himself in prison from a killer to someone who saved the lives of prison employees and fellow inmates.

Lee has not said how he will respond to the petition.

An affidavit signed on Tuesday said he waives the right to be executed by lethal injection and chooses electrocution.

Tennessee is one of six states where condemned inmates can choose the chair, but it’s the only state where they’re actually doing so. They have argued unsuccessfully in court that the way Tennessee carries out lethal injection results in a prolonged and agonizing death.

Expert witnesses have testified that midazolam, which is used to render the inmates unconscious, wouldn’t prevent them from feeling pain and that Tennessee’s three-drug combination would cause them sensations of drowning, suffocation and chemical burning while being unable to move or call out. Faced with that possibility, Edmund Zagorski in November 2018 became only the second Tennessee inmate since 1960 to opt for the electric chair. His electrocution, and the following two, seemed to be carried out without problems. But when Lee Hall was electrocuted in December 2019, witnesses said they saw a small plume of white smoke above the right side of his head. A Tennessee Department of Correction spokeswoman later said it was “steam, and not smoke, as a result of the liquid and heat.” An autopsy has not yet been completed.

The electric chair began to fall out of favor in the 1990s after witnesses reported smoke and flames shooting from the head of a condemned inmate in Florida. A U.S. Supreme Court challenge was dropped after the state switched to lethal injection, but state courts in Georgia and Nebraska have declared the electric chair unconstitutional. No state currently uses the electric chair as its main execution method.