Journalist Recalls Witnessing Executions

'It's not something you're looking forward to.'

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - For the first time in nine years, Tennessee will conduct an execution. Billy Ray Irick is set to be executed Thursday evening. He was convicted of the rape and murder of a 7-year-old girl in 1985.

Just like previous executions in Tennessee a group of witnesses including family members and journalists will watch as Irick is put to death.

Clint Brewer, a journalist with 16 years of experience, was the Executive Editor of the City Paper from 2006 - 2009. During that time, he witnessed two executions.

"From a journalist standpoint, you sort of have to take yourself out of it. At least for the event, right," said Brewer. "You have to set aside what your own personal feelings may be. You have to set aside what you're about to witness and just really hone in on telling the public what happens inside the penitentiary and inside the death chamber."

The Department of Corrections have a very strict set of rules in regards to who can be allowed in the prison to be a witness.

The condemned has the option to select lethal injection or the electric chair. The state has adopted a new lethal injection protocol that called for a three-drug cocktail.

"If it's an electrocution, it's very quick," said Brewer. "Essentially, there's an initial execution and then a short secondary execution and then they pronounce the person dead."

Afterward, the witnesses can then choose to be part of a press conference describing what happened to the public.

Brewer said the he was very aware of the seriousness of the task.

"It's a very serious thing that you're going to do. Possibly, one of, if not the most serious thing you can go to do as a journalist," he said.

He explained how tough it can be to detach from the emotional side of an execution, and still get the job done.

"You just really have to set your own feelings aside, you have to set your own fear aside. You're about to see somebody lawfully be put to death."

Yet, in the end, Brewer said a he and other witnesses played a crucial role - one that "reminds the public that we have a death penalty."

"It's a death penalty that's supported by law. It's a death penalty that's been on the books for a long time. It's not a new thing. That's what people need to understand. This is part of the fabric of our democracy in Tennessee," Brewer said.

Irick is set to be executed by lethal injection Thursday at 7 p.m. The press conference will follow immediately afterward.

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