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VOL. 42 | NO. 40 | Friday, October 5, 2018

Haslam still weighing clemency of Tennessee death row inmate

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NASHVILLE (AP) — Gov. Bill Haslam said Thursday he is still deciding whether to grant clemency to a Tennessee inmate set to be executed next week.

Haslam expects to make a decision soon, but declined to say how he was leaning regarding the pending Oct. 11 execution of 63-year-old Edmund Zagorski.

"We're trying to do every bit of due diligence we can, and we also recognize the day is set a week from today, so there's some urgency to our decision," Haslam told reporters. "We want to be thorough and do our homework."

Zagorski was sentenced in 1984 in the slayings of two men during a drug deal. Prosecutors said Zagorski shot John Dotson and Jimmy Porter, then slit their throats after robbing them in Robertson County in April 1983. The victims had planned to buy marijuana from Zagorski.

Prosecutors argued Zagorski deserved the death penalty because, as aggravating circumstances, the murders were committed during a robbery and the killings were "especially heinous, atrocious or cruel in that they involved torture or depravity of mind."

Zagorski's attorney Robert Hutton sent the governor a letter in late August requesting Haslam commute his client's sentence to life without parole.

At the time of Zagorski's conviction, Hutton argues, Tennessee juries were not given the option of considering life without parole. Every state now requires juries to weigh that option in death penalty cases.

"I just want you to know that I regret everything that happened. I really feel bad for the victims' families and the vast impact it caused," Zagorski said in the letter. "I knew their lives would have been so much better in so many ways and not a day goes by without me thinking about it. If you spare me, I will continue to do my best."

Hutton added in the letter that Zagorski has been an "exemplary" inmate in the 34 years he's been in prison and never had a disciplinary infraction.

"Governors possess clemency powers to prevent miscarriages of justice, and to grant grace when merited. Ed Zagorski's life should be spared ... And his extraordinary rehabilitation demonstrates that if you commute Ed's sentence, he will continue to make the prison community a safer place for both the officers and inmates," Hutton wrote.

Hutton provided The Associated Press a copy of the clemency letter but declined to include the names of the jurors and correctional officers cited in the letter that also support commuting Zagorski's sentence. The AP has since asked Haslam's office for a full list of those names. A spokeswoman for Haslam said the request is being reviewed by the governor's counsel.

Haslam previously declined to intervene in the Aug. 9 execution of Billy Ray Irick, explaining he took an oath as governor to uphold Tennessee's law and capital punishment is legal in the state.

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