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This is what happened in and outside prison as Billy Ray Irick was put to death

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 6 days ago Natalie Allison and Dave Boucher

a person standing in front of a fence: Pro-death penalty supporter Rick Laude of Nashville holds a small boombox playing the AC/DC song "Hells Bells" outside of the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution before the execution of Billy Ray Irick in Nashville, Tenn., Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018.

Pro-death penalty supporter Rick Laude of Nashville holds a small boombox playing the AC/DC song "Hells Bells" outside of the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution before the execution of Billy Ray Irick in Nashville, Tenn., Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018.
© Andrew Nelles / The Tennessean

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – In the parking lot of Riverbend Maximum Security Institution here, an empty podium and tent stood under a gray sky.

It was muggy and quiet.

A small group of reporters – those who weren’t selected as the seven media witnesses to the state execution of Billy Ray Irick – shuffled around the parking lot awaiting news of his death, a sentence set to be carried out more than three decades after Irick was convicted of the Knox County murder of 7-year-old Paula Dyer.

Orange cones and caution tape dotted a field by the prison, a grassy area that would become a gathering point for those who came to make known their opinions on the execution of Irick.

On the right side were those who came to hold a vigil in protest of Irick’s execution, a somber crowd of 50 clergy members, activists and everyday citizens who oppose the death penalty.

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On the left of the cones, just four supporters of Irick’s execution gathered.

Rick Laude, of Nashville, arrived with a portable speaker, announcing he would play AC/DC’s “Hells Bells” during the time Irick’s execution was scheduled to take place.

In a hot chapel at Fisk University, around 60 people — a crowd mostly over the age of 50 — gathered to hold a vigil, as those opposed to the execution of Irick did at churches in Knoxville and Memphis.

5:15 p.m. CT

The family of Paula Dyer entered the prison around 5:15 p.m.

Gene Shiles, Irick's attorney, followed after.

5:30 p.m. CT

At 5:30 p.m., media witnesses were taken into holding rooms inside the prison, where they went through a metal detector and body scanning security machines.

The entry room had just been painted white. The brush strokes were still visible and the smell of fresh paint was strong.

The reporters, Shiles, Deputy Attorney General Scott Sutherland, Knox County Sheriff Jimmy "J.J." Jones and Neysa Taylor, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Correction, sat around a large wooden table in a light blue room.

They drank coffee. The media witnesses chatted. The energy felt nervous.

Jones and Sutherland wouldn't talk, but Shiles discussed how Irick had been in his final days: "Brave and stoic."

A guard handed each witness a large plastic bag containing a legal pad and two pencils.

6:17 p.m. CT

At 6:17 p.m., the group walked out of the waiting room and into the belly of the prison, briefly traveling outside down a sidewalk, past razor wire and a sally port.

A sign next to the door of the main prison building read "do not pick the flowers," though there were no flowers to pick.

The witnesses waited in a parole board hearing room. Nobody talked.

6:43 p.m. CT

After walking through a visitation room filled with vending machines, at 6:43 p.m., witnesses entered the observation room, where there were three rows of 15 red plush chairs.

An official announced the lights would be going out.

7 p.m. CT

Moments after 7 p.m., the crowd in the field by the prison formed a circle, holding candles and passing the flame as the sun continued to shine behind the clouds.

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As they recited the Prayer of St. Francis together, the beginning bell tones to “Hells Bells” rang out. As they had announced, the small group of death penalty supporters continued to play the song as their opposition prayed.

7:12 p.m. CT

After a mix-up over when Sutherland and Shiles were supposed to go back into the execution chamber to observe the IVs being placed in Irick's arms — the correct time was 7 p.m. — Shiles and Sutherland went back at 7:12 p.m.

7:25 p.m. CT

Shiles kissed Irick's forehead and touched his arm, returning with Sutherland to the viewing room at 7:25 p.m.

There was a microphone check inside the chamber, which sounded like a scraping noise.

A minute later, the window curtains were raised to unveil the execution chamber.

Irick, with shoulder-length hair and a scraggly beard, dressed in a white, short-sleeved jumpsuit and wearing black socks, was being held down on a gurney with straps — similar to a seatbelt — over his chest in an X.

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Leather straps bound Irick’s arms.

Riverbend Warden Tony Mays asked Irick if he had any last words.

“No,” Irick said.

The warden wiped his hand over his face, a signal to the executioners to begin administering midazolam, a drug intended to render Irick unconscious.

"I just want to say I'm really sorry,” Irick blurted out. “And that — that's it."

His eyes closed. The midazolam had been given to him.

Outside, a death penalty supporter shouted to those at the vigil that they should be praying for Paula Dyer.

7:30 p.m. CT

At 7:30 p.m., Irick began snoring. His head moved from left to right and the snoring gradually became louder.

7:34 p.m. CT

Inside the execution chamber, at 7:34 p.m., Mays performed a consciousness check, approaching Irick, and putting his hand over Irick's face. He shouted “Billy! Billy!” to no response.

Mays grabbed Irick's right shoulder and pinched and twisted it before stepping back.

A family member of Paula Dyer leaned toward the glass, nervously biting one of his nails.

A woman in the family also moved her body forward, her face nearly pressed to the window. There was little emotion in her face.

7:35 p.m. CT

At 7:35 p.m., Irick's color starts to turn bluish purple.

A minute later, he begins coughing.

7:37 p.m. CT

At 7:37 p.m. his body noises fade away. From then on, it's unclear whether any other sounds from the room were from him.

Outside of Riverbend, the crowd from the vigil and the death penalty supporters began to disperse. A man lingered to pray on his knees in the field.

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7:44 p.m. CT

Mays rocks on his feet from left to right, as the clock hits 7:44 p.m., his hands clasped.

The sun sets outside.

7:46 p.m. CT

The blinds close at 7:46 p.m., and the sound of the shuffling of feet can be heard in the execution room, presumably those of the doctor.

7:48 p.m. CT

At 7:48 p.m., Irick was pronounced dead.

For four to five minutes, witnesses continue to sit in the room before being escorted out of the prison.

Paula’s family emerged from the prison, her mother, Kathy Jeffers, carrying a tissue in her left hand.

A black van pulled up to the prison entrance to pick them up, carrying them away.

Media witnesses emerged from the building, stepping to the podium one at a time to give their account of Irick’s final moments.

Contributing: Jamie Satterfield, Knoxville (Tenn.) News Sentinel; Holly Meyer and Adam Tamburin, The Tennessean; and Mariah Timms, The (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) Daily News Journal. Follow Natalie Allison and Dave Boucher on Twitter: @natalie_allison and @Dave_Boucher1

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