Gene Shiles was one of two attorneys appointed to Billy Ray Irick on April 17, 1985, just two days after 7-year-old Paula Dyer was raped and murdered. Looking back, Shiles tells Channel 3, he doesn't regret his time on the case.

“It was painful. It’s not something that I would have necessarily chosen and I don’t know that things come into your life necessarily for reason or purpose, but yet when they do I think you can learn a lot and I’ve learned a lot,” said Shiles.

Shiles is a Chattanooga attorney at Spears, Moore, Rebman & Williams PC. He says Irick’s case was filled with unexpected challenges.

“When you dig deeper, you often find that your original opinions and your images are incorrect and certainly that was the case,” said Shiles. “We know a child died and we know that that is an unmitigated tragedy, but what we don’t know is how that came to be.”

Irick was eventually sentenced to death.

Thursday night, he became the first Tennessee execution in nine years.

READ MORE | Billy Ray Irick executed for the 1985 murder of 7-year-old Paula Dyer

Shiles was there watching as Irick uttered his last words: "I just want to say I'm really sorry."     

It was the first execution Shiles has witnessed.

It's hard for some to understand, but Shiles says he has sympathy for Irick and his family. After recently receiving hate mail, he hopes others will change their way of thinking.

“Obviously if they were repulsed by this act. Clearly we all are but do not dehumanize the person who committed this. Do not put them beyond redemption,” said Shiles.

Irick is the 133rd person put to death by Tennessee since 1916. Before Irick, all but six executions occurred before 1961.