Tennessee executes first death row inmate in 40 years

Tennessee executed child killer Robert Glen Coe by injection on Wednesday, the first person to be put to death in the state in 40 years.

Coe, 44, was executed for the 1979 rape and murder of an 8-year-old girl.

Tennessee was the only Southern state that has not executed anyone since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. The last execution in Tennessee was in 1960.

In the last month, Coe had twice come within 16 hours of being executed. Both times, federal courts blocked his execution so they could review his mental competence. A federal appeals court found him mentally competent and the U.S. Supreme Court denied his latest appeal on Tuesday.

The state Supreme Court gave the final approval for the execution early Wednesday, overruling a lower court that had issued a temporary injunction over the execution method.

Coe's case has been in the legal system for more than 20 years since he confessed to raping and killing Cary Ann Medlin in Greenfield in western Tennessee.

He told authorities that he had intended only to rape her, but then "she told me that Jesus loves me, and that is when I got so upset and I decided to kill her."

The then-23-year-old mechanic was arrested three days later as he was about to board a bus for Georgia. The black shoe polish he had used to dye his hair was still dribbling down his face.

His attorneys contend Coe's confession was coerced and driven by mental illness caused from years of physical and emotional abuse by his impoverished parents.

Some religious leaders had condemned the Tennessee Supreme Court for scheduling the execution during the holiest week on the Christian calendar and at the beginning of the Jewish Passover. Wednesday is the first evening of Passover and four days before Easter.

A spokeswoman for the state's high court said the justices chose the date because it was one week from April 11, when the appeals court found him competent.

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