Sedley Alley, 50, was executed by lethal injection and pronounced dead at 3:12 a.m. EDT. The state had planned back-to-back executions of both Alley and convicted killer Paul Dennis Reid, but Reid received a stay.
The state appealed that stay to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which was scheduled to meet Wednesday morning. Reid's planned witnesses were asked to return to the prison by noon.
If the court does not vacate the stay by midnight Thursday, the state Supreme Court would have to set a new execution date.
Alley was put to death for killing 19-year-old Marine Suzanne Collins in 1985 while she jogged near a Navy base north of Memphis. Though he confessed, he claimed at trial that he was not responsible for the sexual assault and murder because he had multiple personalities. He recanted his confession in 2004, and said DNA testing could prove his innocence.
As the clock ticked closer to Alley's scheduled execution, it looked as if it might not go forward.
Just two hours before he was originally scheduled to die, Judge Gilbert S. Merritt on the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay after a last-minute appeal was delivered to his home in Nashville.
His hasty order, half-typed and half-handwritten, was quickly reversed by his own colleagues, Chief Judge Danny J. Boggs and Judge James L. Ryan. Tennessee Attorney General Paul Summers argued in an appeal of Merritt's ruling that the procedure was "highly irregular and in brazen violation of every rule that applies to this situation."
Before the injection began, the prison warden asked Alley if there was anything he wanted to say. He replied: "Yes, to my children. April, David, can you hear me? I love you. Stay strong."
"We will, Dad," his daughter April McIntyre answered. Both his children had their hands against the glass in the witness room and their arms around each other as he died.
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.
Federal Judge Todd Campbell halted Reid's execution Tuesday to determine whether he was competent to drop his appeals of seven death sentences tied to a string of 1997 murders in the Clarksville area.
Reid has told reporters and his legal team that he is being controlled, monitored and tormented by a military government. In a motion before the judge, a neuropsychiatrist said Reid is schizophrenic and that the condition "precludes him from either understanding his position or appreciating the legal options available to him."
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 102 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.
Texas, the nation's most active death penalty state, executed a convicted serial killer Tuesday night., the Mexican drifter known as the "Railroad Killer" was executed for the slaying of physician Claudia Benton 7½ years ago. She was killed during a deadly spree in 1998 and 1999 that earned Resendiz a spot on the FBI's Most Wanted list as authorities searched for a murderer who slipped across the U.S. border and roamed the country by freight train.
Authorities in that case realized they were pursuing a serial killer when DNA evidence tied Resendiz to Benton's murder and the killings of a church pastor and his wife who were beaten with a sledgehammer as they slept in their house near tracks outside Houston.