Tennessee executes Philip Workman by lethal injection

Philip Workman
Philip Workman

Associated Press Writer

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - A man convicted of killing a Memphis police officer in 1981 was executed by lethal injection early Wednesday after state and federal courts rejected his attorneys' pleas for more time to examine the state's newly revised execution protocols.

Philip Workman, 53, was composed as curtains were pulled back to show him strapped to the gurney in the execution chamber at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution.

"I've prayed to the Lord Jesus Christ not to lay charge of my death to any man," he said when asked by Warden Ricky Bell if he had any final words.

He then closed his eyes and about two minutes later said, "I commend my spirit into your hands, Lord Jesus Christ." He took his last visible breaths as his head drifted to the left and he appeared to go unconscious.

About 17 minutes elapsed from the time he was first shown to witnesses to when he was pronounced dead at 1:38 a.m. CDT. He showed no obvious signs of discomfort or pain.

Workman was convicted in the death of Lt. Ronald Oliver during a shootout following his robbery of a fast-food restaurant. He wounded one officer and shot at a second, but he contended another officer's bullet accidentally killed Oliver.

Tennessee executed Sedley Alley last June and Robert Glen Coe in 2000 - both by lethal injection. The last previous execution was by electrocution in 1960.

Workman had previously been on "death watch" three times and had come within hours of execution before being granted stays.

State and federal courts denied several last-minute motions from his attorneys late into Tuesday night trying to stop the execution.

Workman's attorneys tried arguing a variety of issues, mainly that the state's newly revised execution protocols violated the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment, and that Workman didn't have enough time to challenge them.

Oliver's widow, Sandra Noblin, stepson Gerald Finger and stepdaughter Deborah Rosenbaum watched the execution in a room separated from media witnesses. Workman's brother, Terry, and his spiritual adviser, Joe Ingle, decided Tuesday night not to watch.

"This is not a happy night for anyone. However, for those who loved and cared for the victim there is at last some small sense of justice," said Valerie Craig, a member of the victim rights group You Have The Power who spoke for the Oliver family.

"Twenty-five years ago he was doing the job he was sworn to do. He was shot and killed by the man executed tonight," she said. "Though his sentence was finally carried out, nothing will happen that will ever give them closure."

Workman spent Tuesday visiting with his brother and two friends in a special cell near the execution chamber. Instead of ordering a last meal, Workman requested that a vegetarian pizza be given to a homeless person, which the Department of Correction refused to do.

Workman's execution had been delayed on five prior occasions - twice by stays granted by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2000 and 2001, once by a stay granted by the Tennessee Supreme Court in 2001, once by executive reprieve in 2003 and once by the federal district court in 2004.

His attorneys filed motions in the last week and late into Tuesday night with the Tennessee Supreme Court, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court trying to stall the execution.

Gov. Phil Bredesen imposed a 90-day moratorium on executions in February after an Associated Press review of the execution procedure manual found it was a jumble of conflicting instructions that mixed lethal injection instructions with those for the old electric chair.

"Under the circumstances, he simply never could have litigated the new protocols to a final conclusion given the timeline under which he was placed by the state," Workman's attorneys wrote.

A federal judge halted Workman's execution last week over concerns about the revisions, but a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals lifted that temporary restraining order Monday. The full 6th Circuit and U.S. Supreme Court denied motions to reconsider those issues and several other arguments about the merits of his conviction.

The state's attorney general argued that Workman had years to challenge the state's lethal injection process, which is similar to several other states', before the revisions.

The governor, who has said he is satisfied with the revised protocols, declined to intervene.       "I think the fact that the state executed Philip Workman without an evidentiary hearing shows that Tennessee's death penalty system is broken," said Alex Wiesendanger, associate director of the Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killing.

"We're using the same protocols that have caused horrendous, botched executions in other states," he said, referring in part to the execution last December of a Florida inmate that took twice as long as normal and required a rare second dose of lethal chemicals.

Associated Press Writer Kristin M. Hall contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)