Tennessee halts executions ahead of a review of lethal injections

Lethal injections will remain paused through the end of the year

Graig Graziosi
Monday 02 May 2022 20:47

Related video: Texas House member Jeff Leach says capital punishment ‘needs fixing’

Tennessee has paused its lethal injection executions pending a procedural review, Republican Governor Bill Lee said.

The Associated Press reports that former US Attorney Ed Stanton will review the circumstances surrounding the texting of lethal injection chemicals, the clarity of the execution process and Tennessee Department of Corrections staffing considerations.

The pause comes after a testing oversight forced the state to halt the execution of inmate Oscar Smith just an hour before he was scheduled to die. Governor Bill Lee said the lethal injections would no begin again until it is clear proper procedures are being followed.

"I review each death penalty case and believe it is an appropriate punishment for heinous crimes," Mr Lee said. "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."

Mr Lee said the pause in lethal injections would remain in effect through the end of the year.

The governor did not specify what prompted the cancellation of the execution just an hour before Smith was set to die. On 21 April, at 5:42pm, he issued a statement saying that "due to an oversight in preparation for lethal injection, the scheduled execution of Oscar Smith will not move forward tonight. I am granting a temporary reprieve while we address Tennessee Department of Correction protocol."

Prior to the move, Smith's attorneys had asked the state for a moratorium on executions and a review of its execution protocols.

"Governor Lee's decision to pause executions pending an independent review of Tennessee's lethal injection protocol shows great leadership. The use of compounded drugs in the context of lethal injection is fraught with risk. The failure to test for endotoxins is a violation of the protocol. Governor Lee did the right thing by stopping executions because of this breach," Federal Public Defender Kelley Henry said.

The deadly cocktail used to carry out lethal injections has been a subject of controversy for years. The federal government and several states were forced to pause their lethal injection programs for several years after countries in the EU determined that they would not export the drugs to the US.

Federal executions were restarted under former President Donald Trump's administration, with reports indicating a new source of the drug trio used in lethal injections were found within the US.

The drugs used by the state are midazolam, which is a sedative used to render inmates unconscious, vecuronium bromide, which paralyzes the inmate, and potassium chloride, which stops the inmate's heart.

Expert witnesses to the executions said the inmates would feel as though they are drowning, suffocating, and being burned alive, all while being unable to move or scream.

Lethal injection was adopted as a more "humane" alternative to the electric chair, hangings, or firing squads, but experts in recent years have called those claims into question.

The Independent and the nonprofit Responsible Business Initiative for Justice (RBIJ) have launched a joint campaign calling for an end to death penalty in the US. The RBIJ has attracted more than 150 well-known signatories to their Business Leaders Declaration Against the Death Penalty - with The Independent as the latest on the list. We join high-profile executives like Ariana Huffington, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, and Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson as part of this initiative and are making a pledge to highlight the injustices of the death penalty in our coverage.

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