Apr 29, 2022 - News

Lawyers call for pause in Tennessee executions

Tennessee governor Bill Lee in an orange tie and blue suit behind a lectern with American flags behind him
Gov. Bill Lee. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Federal public defenders want Gov. Bill Lee to temporarily halt executions in Tennessee and create an independent commission to investigate the state's death penalty protocol.

Driving the news: Attorneys sent Lee a formal request for a moratorium Thursday, a week after he delayed the execution of Oscar Franklin Smith because of an undisclosed "oversight" in lethal injection preparations.

Why it matters: The reprieve in Smith's case is reigniting a debate about the three drugs Tennessee uses in lethal injections.

  • Defense attorneys have long criticized the drugs as faulty and unconstitutional.
  • During a media conference, they said the reprieve supported their claims that the process was fundamentally flawed.

Between the lines: Lee has yet to share what led to his last-minute decision to delay Smith's execution.

What they're saying: "Whatever the 'oversight' that led to the necessity of a last-minute reprieve, there can be no trust in the Department of Correction to carry out an execution without first conducting an independent investigation of the execution protocol," federal public defenders Kelley Henry and Amy Harwell wrote in their letter to Lee.

The big picture: Tennessee's lethal injection protocol has been the subject of litigation for years — one lawsuit is awaiting trial in federal court.

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