Tenn Governor Cancels Execution, Citing Oversight in Plan | Tennessee News
By JONATHAN MATTISE, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – Tennessee’s governor on Thursday canceled what would have been the state’s first execution since the pandemic began, granting a temporary reprieve to the oldest inmate on death row for what has been called a ” supervision” of the preparations for the lethal injection.
Republican Governor Bill Lee did not specify what exactly forced the surprise 11th-hour stoppage of the scheduled execution of 72-year-old Oscar Smith. But Amy Harwell, an attorney with the federal public defender’s office representing Smith, said her office received notice that the issue was about “mishandling” of the drugs – although no further details were provided to her office. .
The inmate was to be injected with three drugs shortly after at a maximum security prison in Nashville.
“Due to an oversight in the preparation for the lethal injection, the scheduled execution of Oscar Smith will not take place tonight. I am granting a temporary reprieve while we address the protocol of the Tennessee Department of Corrections “Lee said in a statement promising further details when available.
Kelley Henry, another attorney with the federal public defender’s office, called for an independent entity to investigate, saying no executions should take place until questions are answered.
Henry said the Governor had done the ‘right thing’ in stopping the execution which ‘certainly would have been torture for Mr. Smith’.
Smith was convicted of the 1989 murders of his estranged wife and two teenage sons. Shortly before the governor’s intervention, the United States Supreme Court had rejected a last-ditch offer by Smith’s attorneys for a stay.
His reprieve is in effect until the beginning of June.
Dorinda Carter, spokeswoman for the Department of Correction, said the state Supreme Court should postpone the execution. She said Smith would be taken off death watch and returned to his death row cell.
State officials declined to provide further information.
Just before learning of his reprieve, Smith had received communion from his spiritual adviser, who was about to be admitted to the execution chamber.
Hours earlier, Smith had received what was supposed to be his last meal, including a double bacon cheeseburger and apple pie.
Tennessee had scheduled five executions this year, including Smith’s. It has sought to resume its pre-pandemic rapid pace of putting inmates to death. Heading into Thursday, the five outstanding death warrants tied Tennessee with Texas for the most nationally this year, according to the Washington-based nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center.
Texas, however, executed its longest-serving death row inmate Thursday night. Carl Wayne Buntion, 78, was put to death for the fatal June 1990 shooting of Houston police officer James Irby during a traffic stop.
Smith was originally scheduled to be executed in June 2020, one of many dates delayed due to the pandemic.
Smith was convicted of fatally stabbing and shooting Judith Smith and her sons Jason and Chad Burnett, 13 and 16, at their Nashville home on October 1, 1989.
Smith has maintained he is innocent. In a clemency case, dismissed by Lee on Tuesday, Smith’s legal team reported trouble with the jury during his 1990 trial. His lawyers were denied requests to reopen his case after a new type of DNA analysis found the DNA of an unknown person on one of the murder weapons.
Tennessee has not carried out any executions since February 2020, when Nicholas Sutton died in the electric chair for the murder of a fellow inmate at an East Tennessee prison. Of the seven inmates Tennessee has put to death since 2018 — when Tennessee ended a pause in executions dating back to 2009 — only two have died by lethal injection.
Smith had previously refused to choose between the chair and lethal injection, so lethal injection became the default method.
Tennessee uses a series of three drugs to put inmates to death: midazolam, a sedative to render the inmate unconscious; vecuronium bromide, to paralyze the prisoner; and potassium chloride, to stop the heart.
Officials said midazolam renders an inmate unconscious and unable to feel pain. Inmate expert witnesses, however, say the drugs would cause feelings of drowning, suffocation and chemical burns while preventing inmates from moving or calling. The assessment led to more inmates choosing the electric chair over lethal injection.
Tennessee’s decisions to continue lethal injections come amid shortages of enforcement drugs in other states. On the one hand, South Carolina cited its difficulties obtaining lethal injection drugs in recent years — a problem in many states because pharmacies and manufacturers have refused to supply their drugs for executions — as it is moving forward with plans for a rare American execution firing squad. This execution was also delayed.
South Carolina lawmakers have failed to pass the kind of law to keep its enforcement drug suppliers confidential that Tennessee has put in place.
In Oklahoma last October, an inmate executed using the same three-drug lethal injection convulsed and vomited after being given midazolam. Oklahoma has performed three lethal injections since, with no similar reactions reported.
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