WARNING: Graphic content
More than 30 years after Billy Ray Irick committed a crime authorities described as one of the most brutal they'd ever seen, the 59-year-old has been executed.
Irick died via lethal injection around 11am AEST in a Tennessee prison, the fifth time his execution date had been scheduled.
The 59-year-old Tennessee man was found guilty of raping and murdering Paula Dyer, a seven-year-old girl he was babysitting, in 1986 and has been on death row for 32 years.
Irick was the first inmate executed in Tennessee since 2009 and is now the 133rd person killed in the southern US state.
Some of Paula's family witnessed the execution as well as members of the media, Irick's lawyer and police officers.
According to The Tennessean, Irick apologised after he'd been strapped to the execution table.
"I just want to say I'm really sorry. And that … that's it," he said.
According to witnesses, Irick's face turned purple as the lethal chemicals ran through his body and after the curtain was drawn, so people can watch him die, he was seen gasping for air.
The U.S. Supreme Court cleared Irick for execution late yesterday after a number of attempts to stop it.
Since the 2009 execution of Cecil Johnson, Tennessee has struggled to obtain pentobarbital — a lethal drug commonly used in executions and for euthanasia patients due to its peaceful and painless nature.
Instead, Irick was the first person killed in Tennessee with the state's controversial three-drug injection that uses compounded potassium chloride as the killing agent, a drug that can cause chemical burns.
A compounded midazolam is supposed to render a death row inmate unable to feel pain but questions have been raised over the effectiveness of midazolam as a sedative.
"Although the Midazolam may temporarily render Irick unconscious, the onset of pain and suffocation will rouse him. And it may do so just as the paralysis sets in, too late for him to alert bystanders that his execution has gone horribly (if predictably) wrong," Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote.
"In refusing to grant Irick a stay, the Court today turns a blind eye to a proven likelihood that the State of Tennessee is on the verge of inflicting several minutes of torturous pain on an inmate in its custody."
THE WEEK BEFORE THE EXECUTION
Despite Irick's harrowing crimes, a number of mental health groups asked the court to cancel or delay his execution.
A week before Irick's death, a letter was sent by the leaders of the National Alliance on Mental Illness calling on the court to instead give Irick life without parole.
"From all reports, Irick's severe mental illness has continued unabated during his many years of incarceration," reads the letter. "The fact that eight experts, working for both the state and the defence, agree that he suffers from severe mental illness is powerful evidence in support of this point."
But Kathy — the little girl's broken mother — stands firm. She wants closure, and she wants the world to remember her name.
"All you ever hear about is him. Nothing about her," she said. "What he did to her is the reason he's where he is. I am sick of hearing about his pain and his suffering. What about her pain and her suffering? She was seven years old, raped, sodomised, and strangled to death. I'm sorry, I feel nothing for his pain. Nothing at all. God, forgive me, but I don't."
She says her little girl is more than just a name in a court document.
"She was alive. She's real. She's not just a name on a piece of paper. That's what she is boiled down to now, according to the papers and the courts, is just a name. She is more than that. She is a lot more than that. She still is.
"I don't think Paula can rest in peace until this is resolved. I honestly don't believe she can. Paula needs to rest in peace."
Despite the protests, the 59-year-old's execution went ahead with the Tennessee Department of Corrections revealing his final meal.
"This combo includes a super deluxe burger, onion rings, and a Pepsi," the department said in a statement to press.
The restaurant responsible for the "Super Deluxe Combo" was withheld "out of an abundance of caution", according to a department spokeswoman.
In 1983, Irick was working as a dishwasher at a Knoxville truck stop when he met Kenny Jeffers, Paula's father.
The two men struck up a friendship and eventually Irick moved in with Kenny, his wife Kathy and their children.
On the morning of April 15, 1985, Kathy and Irick had a fight and she kicked him out of the family home.
But that same night, Kenny had something to do and couldn't leave his children at home so he called Irick over to babysit them.
At midnight, Irick called Kenny and told him to come home, "It's Paula. I can't wake her up," he said.
When Kenny arrived home, he testified he saw Irick standing on the porch. Paula was on the floor, unconscious and with a pool of blood between her legs.
The seven-year-old was rushed to the hospital but she died on the way.
The doctors looking after her concluded from her injuries that she had been brutally raped anally and vaginally, with asphyxiation ruled as the cause of death.
One doctor noted that she had been hit in the head and may have been knocked unconscious.
By the time Kathy showed up at the hospital, the girl was gone. She never got to say goodbye.
After a six-day trial, a Knox County jury convicted Irick of first-degree murder and two counts of aggravated rape on November 1, 1986.
The judge, John James Duncan Jr, described the incident as the most brutal case in his career.
A jury of eight men and four women sentenced Irick to die in the electric chair, which was scheduled for May 4, 1987.
Irick's execution date was delayed a number of times but today, the fifth time authorities had tried to put him to death, Irick was killed by lethal injection.