death penalty

Lee halts executions for rest of year, calls for independent review

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his State of the State Address on Jan. 31, 2022. (Erik Schelzig)

Republican Gov. Bill Lee is placing a moratorium on executions in Tennessee for the rest of the year to allow for an independent review of lethal injection processes.

Lee had postponed the execution of death row inmate Oscar Smith on April 21 due to an unspecified “oversight in preparation for lethal injection.” The governor’s office has hired former U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton of Memphis to oversee the review.

Here’s the full release from the governor’s office:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced plans to launch a third-party review of a lethal injection testing oversight that resulted in a temporary reprieve for death row inmate Oscar Franklin Smith.

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

Both the United States Supreme Court and Lee declined to intervene on the merits of Smith’s case, but questions surrounding lethal injection testing preparation for the April 21 execution resulted in a temporary reprieve by the governor.

Tennessee will retain former U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton to conduct an independent review of the following:

— Circumstances that led to testing the lethal injection chemicals for only potency and sterility but not endotoxins preparing for the April 21 execution.

— Clarity of the lethal injection process manual that was last updated in 2018, and adherence to testing policies since the update.

— TDOC staffing considerations.

“An investigation by a respected third-party will ensure any operational failures at TDOC are thoroughly addressed,” said Lee. “We will pause scheduled executions through the end of 2022 in order to allow for the review and corrective action to be put in place.”

Since 2019, three of four executions have been carried out by electric chair. Death row inmates may choose to be executed by electric chair rather than lethal injection, and lethal injection is the default execution method in Tennessee. The April 21 execution was set to be the first execution since February 2020 due to disruptions caused by COVID-19. This execution was one of five executions scheduled to take place this year. The Tennessee Supreme Court will determine rescheduled dates for the 2022 executions.

McNally statement on execution of Lee Hall

Senate Speaker Randy McNally’s comment on the execution of Lee Hall on Thursday evening:

After nearly three decades, the moment of justice has finally arrived for the family of Traci Crozier. She was set on fire and left for dead by an individual who proclaimed to love her. After 36 hours of unfathomable pain and suffering, she died. Today a sentence of death was carried out against the individual responsible. In the state of Tennessee, we reserve the ultimate and irrevocable penalty of death for crimes such as these. While there is little pleasure in it, there is no doubt justice was served tonight. I can only hope the family of the victim can now have some measure of peace.

Here’s what Gov. Bill Lee has to say in declining to intervene in the case.

The justice system has extensively reviewed Lee Hall’s case over the course of almost 30 years, including additional review and rulings by the Tennessee Supreme Court yesterday and today. The judgment and sentence stand based on these rulings, and I will not intervene in this case.

Haslam grants 10-day execution delay to prepare electric chair

Gov. Bill Haslam speaks at a press conference at the state Capitol in Nashville on March 1, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A statement from Gov. Bill Haslam about his decision to grant a 10-day delay in the execution of death row inmate Edmund Zagorski:

I am granting to Edmund Zagorski a reprieve of 10 days from execution of the sentence of death imposed upon by him by a jury in 1984 which was scheduled to be carried out later today. I take seriously the responsibility imposed upon the Tennessee Department of Correction and me by law, and given the federal court’s decision to honor Zagorski’s last-minute decision to choose electrocution as the method of execution, this brief reprieve will give all involved the time necessary to carry out the sentence in an orderly and careful manner.

Haslam won’t intervene in Zagorski execution

A statement from Gov. Bill Haslam about death row inmate Edmund Zagorski, who is scheduled to be executed on Thursday:

After careful consideration, I am declining to intervene in the case of Edmund Zagorski, who was convicted and sentenced to death in 1984 by a Robertson County jury for the murders of John Dale Dotson and Jimmy Porter. Zagorski requests clemency based upon his behavior while incarcerated and juror affidavits obtained nearly 35 years after the trial stating that some jurors would have preferred to impose a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, which was not an option under Tennessee law at the time. While Zagorski has exhibited good behavior during his incarceration, that does not undo the fact that he robbed and brutally murdered two men and attempted to kill a police officer while on the run. Further, while juries today have the option of imposing a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole in capital cases, the jury in Zagorski’s case heard the evidence at trial and rendered a unanimous verdict in accordance with the law at the time and their duty as jurors. Ten courts, including the Tennessee Supreme Court and the Supreme Court of the United States, have reviewed and upheld the jury’s verdict and sentence, and the Tennessee Supreme Court has held that the addition of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole as a sentencing option does not affect previous verdicts.

TN Supreme Court rejects AG request for eight early executions; schedules two for later this year

The Tennessee Supreme Court has denied the state attorney general’s request to move up eight execution dates before June 1, reports the Associated Press. Attorney General Herbert Slatery filed the requests Feb. 5 and cited “ongoing difficulty” getting lethal injection drugs.

The court on Thursday did set execution dates for two of the inmates, Oct. 11 for Edmund Zagorski, who was convicted of two murders, and Dec. 6 for David Earl Miller, who was convicted of murdering a mentally disabled woman.

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U.S. Supreme Court rejects appeals of nine TN death row inmates; one execution set for Aug. 9

Press release from Administrative Office of the Courts

The Tennessee Supreme Court set an execution date of August 9, 2018, for Billy Ray Irick, who was convicted of the 1985 murder and rape of Paula Kay Dyer, age 7, in Knox County, Tennessee. The Court received notice from the State Attorney General on January 11, 2018, that the United States Supreme Court had denied the defendant’s appeal challenging the constitutionality of Tennessee’s lethal injection protocol. Under Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 12.4(E), the Court, on its own, may set a new execution date when a case with a previous execution date had stays or reprieves lifted or dissolved. Mr. Irick has had multiple previous execution dates.

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TN Supreme Court affirms death sentence in Memphis triple murder

Press release from Administrative Office of the Courts

Nashville, Tenn. – The Tennessee Supreme Court has affirmed the convictions and sentences of death for Sedrick Clayton for the murders of Arithio, Patricia, and Pashea Fisher and the conviction for attempted murder of A’Reco Fisher in Memphis.

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Supremes confirm death penalty in 2008 Memphis murder

News release from the Administrative Office of the Courts

Nashville, Tenn. – The Tennessee Supreme Court has affirmed James Hawkins’s premeditated murder conviction and sentence of death for the 2008 murder of Charlene Gaither, Mr. Hawkins’s long-term girlfriend and the mother of his three children. 

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TN Supreme Court upholds death penalty protocol

News release from the Administrative Office of the Courts

Nashville, Tenn. – The Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of the written protocol by which the Tennessee Department of Correction carries out an execution by lethal injection.

The plaintiffs in this matter, each of whom have been convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to death, brought a declaratory judgment action in the trial court challenging the constitutionality of the lethal injection protocol under both the United States and Tennessee Constitutions.  This protocol was adopted on September 27, 2013, and provided that inmates who had been sentenced to death were to be executed by injection of a lethal dose of the drug, pentobarbital.  The trial court conducted a lengthy evidentiary hearing and eventually denied the plaintiffs relief.

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