KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) - The man convicted in the rape and murder of a 7-year-old Knox County girl in 1985 was put to death by lethal injection Thursday evening. The judge in his initial trial, outgoing U.S. Congressman Jimmy Duncan, says it's a "real shame" that it's taken this long and calls it "ridiculous."
Duncan says he accepted the jury's verdict, agreed with it, and sentenced Irick to death in 1986. He says something, legally, needs to be done to limit the amount of time appeals can go on. He says it's past time for justice.
"Billy Ray Irick has been given 32 extra years, and he's been given 59 years. And this little girl was given only seven," Duncan said.
In more than seven years serving as a judge, Duncan says he was known for being lenient and giving people a second chance. He never aspired to give anyone a death sentence, he said.
"I don't think there are hardly any cases where the death penalty is appropriate. I think it's extremely rare case. But, I do think there are cases that are so horrendous and so terrible that the death penalty is the only appropriate sentence. I think it was appropriate in this case," he said.
He says after the verdict came a lengthy sentencing phase, where everything was on the table to appeal to the jury not to sentence Irick to death. He says they heard from experts in the system and discovered he knew what he was doing when he raped and killed 7-year-old Paula Dyer.
Duncan says Gov. Haslam called a few days ago to discuss the case. Duncan said he told Haslam he wouldn't criticize him if he intervened with the execution. Haslam later announced he would not intervene.
Duncan added, "They talked about, on this last minute appeal, that Billy Ray Irick would have to go through some pain during the execution. Well, it's terrible to think of what must have gone through the mind of that little seven-year-old girl because the proof showed that she was alive when she was being raped and then she's being suffocated by a person she apparently called Uncle Bill."
Irick exhausted his last appeal, after the United States Supreme Court denied his petition for a stay of execution on Thursday afternoon.
Irick's attorneys had filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus to Justice Elena Kagan.
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