Tennessee suspends executions for review after prisoner’s last-minute stay | Capital punishment

Tennessee is suspending executions to allow an independent review of its lethal injection procedures after a test oversight forced the state to reverse the execution of Oscar Smith an hour before his death this month, said Republican Gov. Bill Lee on Monday.

Ed Standon, a former U.S. attorney, will review the circumstances surrounding lethal injection chemical testing, the clarity of the lethal injection process manual, and considerations for Tennessee Department of Corrections personnel, Lee said.

“I review every death penalty case and believe it is an appropriate punishment for heinous crimes,” Lee said. “However, the death penalty is an extremely serious matter, and I expect the Tennessee Department of Corrections to leave no doubt that procedures are being followed correctly.”

His statement says the pause will remain in effect until the end of the year to allow time for review and corrective action.

Lee did not explain exactly why Smith’s execution was delayed. He released a brief statement April 21 at 5:42 p.m. stating that “Due to an oversight in the preparation for the lethal injection, the scheduled execution of Oscar Smith will not take place tonight. I’m granting a temporary reprieve while we go to the Tennessee Department of Corrections Protocol.

Officials initially said Lee would release more details last week, but then said more information would be released on Monday. Smith’s attorneys last week called for a moratorium on executions and a review of state execution protocols.

“Governor Lee’s decision to suspend executions pending an independent review of Tennessee’s lethal injection protocol shows great leadership,” said Kelley Henry, a federal public defender.

“The use of compounded drugs as part of a lethal injection carries many risks. Failure to test for endotoxins is a violation of protocol. Governor Lee did the right thing by stopping executions because of of this breach.

Although lethal injection has been adopted as a humane alternative to the electric chair, it has been the subject of constant problems and lawsuits.

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.

Authorities said the inmates were unconscious and unable to feel pain. Expert inmate witnesses said inmates would feel like they were drowning, suffocating and being burned to death, while being unable to move or call.

Of the seven inmates Tennessee has put to death since 2018, when it ended a hiatus from executions dating back to 2009, five have chosen to die in the electric chair.

Smith refused to make a choice, which meant he was to be executed by the state’s preferred method of lethal injection.

Smith was sentenced to death for fatally stabbing and shooting his estranged wife, Judith Smith, and her teenage sons, Jason and Chad Burnett, at their Nashville home on October 1, 1989.

At 72, Smith is the oldest inmate on Tennessee’s death row. His stay expires on June 1, after which the state Supreme Court will set a new execution date.

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