The state carried out only its second execution in 45 years early Wednesday after a federal appeals court panel lifted a stay of execution granted by one of its own judges.
Sedley Alley’s execution had been scheduled to take place within hours of another, but a federal judge issued a stay late Tuesday afternoon for the other condemned man.
Alley, 50, was pronounced dead at 3:12 a.m. EDT Wednesday. He had confessed to killing 19-year-old Marine Suzanne Collins in 1985 while she jogged near a Navy base north of Memphis.
Alley claimed at trial that he was not responsible for the murder because he had multiple personalities. But in 2004, he recanted his confession, argued he was innocent and said DNA testing could prove it.
Judge Gilbert S. Merritt on the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals had issued a stay for Alley after a last-minute appeal was delivered to his home in Nashville.
But his colleagues on the appeals court — Chief Judge Danny J. Boggs and Judge James L. Ryan — overruled the order. A third judge on the panel was unavailable to participate in the decision.
The judges suggested it was improper for a single judge to “take under consideration a matter for which the district courts and the court of appeals are competent to consider.”
Gov. Phil Bredesen and the U.S. Supreme Court had already rejected all requests for a stay Tuesday.
Alley’s stay came only hours after federal Judge Todd Campbell halted the scheduled execution of another inmate, Paul Dennis Reid.
Campbell’s stay was to give time to determine whether Reid was mentally competent to drop his appeals of seven death sentences tied to a string of 1997 murders in the Clarksville area.
Tennessee Attorney General Paul Summers appealed both stays.
Alley was scheduled to die May 17, but got a reprieve to seek court permission for the DNA testing. His defense team, led by Barry Scheck of the nonprofit legal clinic Innocence Project, failed to persuade the state courts to release crime-scene evidence for testing.
Reid, 48, a former Texas drifter with music ambitions, was convicted of murdering seven people at three Tennessee restaurants in 1997 after he was fired from his job as a dishwasher. He came within hours of execution in 2003 before he was talked into resuming his appeals and got a stay.
Reid and Alley have been on death watch since the weekend at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville.
The last Tennessee inmate executed was a convicted child rapist and murderer put to death in 2000. Before that, the last execution was by electric chair in 1960.
Tennessee has 103 inmates on death row.
Only four states — Arkansas, Illinois, South Carolina and Texas — have conducted double executions since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington.