Tennessee executed its first inmate in nearly a decade Thursday night. Billy Ray Irick was pronounced dead by lethal injection at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville at 7:48 p.m. 

Irick was convicted of raping and murdering 7-year-old Paula Dyer in Knoxville in 1985. He was sentenced to dead in 1986. 

The death row inmate exhausted all of his appeals. Irick's attorneys made one last-ditch effort to stop the execution by reaching out to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court denied the motion.

Several witnesses, including Dyer's family, were allowed to watch the execution behind the glass wall. Witnesses say when Irick was asked if he had an final words, he said no and paused, then said "I just want to say I'm really sorry and that's it."

Doctors injected three drugs to kill Irick, a controversial practice across the country. The execution triggered protests across the state, including at Fisk Memorial Chapel in Nashville. 

Witnesses describe Irick as making a snoring noise shortly after the drugs were injected. 

"There was some noise coming from him. It sounded like he was gasping, coughing a little bit at some times and sort of puffing his breath," said John Mattise, who witnessed the execution.

Witnesses say it took about 20 minutes between when the drugs were first injected to when Irick was pronounced dead. 

"One of the drugs he was given was a paralytic so if he was in excruciating pain I don't think we would know and that's probably something that's going to keep me up tonight," said witness Steven Hale. "It was very surreal to watch it and in some ways it does not look like a killing, but you know, that's what you're watching and that's what's going to be difficult."

Irick's attorney, Gene Siles, told witnesses he kissed Irick before his execution. He also reportedly told witnesses "I never thought for one moment that it would come to this. I never did. I thought somebody would actually look at the facts. I was wrong."

Two more inmates are set to be put to death in Tennessee in 2018. 

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