Supreme Court case holds up Tennessee executions

Hank Hayes • Jan 12, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen says the state is right to exercise caution and not move forward with pending inmate executions until the U.S. Supreme Court makes a decision on a Kentucky death penalty case.

“It is very clear to me that the federal courts are not going to allow any executions,” Bredesen said during a recent conference call with reporters.

The Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments regarding the use of lethal injections to carry out executions in the United States.

In the Kentucky case under consideration, attorneys for two death row inmates argued that the three-drug-injection method used widely in executions across the country can cause unnecessary pain and suffering.

Late last year, House GOP Leader Jason Mumpower of Bristol and House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada of Franklin had called a halt to executions “unacceptable.”

“To delay executions is to delay justice and to deny closure to the victims of heinous crimes,” the two lawmakers said in a letter sent to Bredesen. “We ask you as the state’s chief executive and the attorney general as the state’s chief legal officer to pursue all legal appeals to uphold the laws of the state and the legislative intent behind them.”

The Supreme Court decision is holding up at least two Tennessee executions. Last month, Pervis T. Payne was scheduled to be executed for two counts of murder stemming from a brutal stabbing in Shelby County. Mass murderer Paul Dennis Reid’s execution had been slated to happen Jan. 3. He gunned down seven victims execution-style and drew seven death sentences.

In the three-drug mixture used in lethal injections, the first drug is used to make the prisoner unconscious, the second paralyzes the body, and the third stops the heart. Opponents of the method said that if the first drug does not work, the inmate would feel excruciating pain but would not be able to move or communicate his agony because of the second, paralyzing drug. They have advocated using a one-drug protocol.

Bredesen rejected the idea.

“Anyone who is suggesting that a one-drug cocktail is the answer to everything, I think, is just dead wrong,” he said. “People who are arguing for the one-drug protocol are, in substantial part, people who are opposed to the death penalty and trying to find a way to get it back into the courts. I happen to think that what we have with the three-drug protocol works. It may need some tuning up. I think we are playing this exactly right. I am a supporter of the death penalty. ... If we need to make adjustments (after the Supreme Court ruling), then we will. ... I treat every (case) serious, review every one, and in the vast majority of cases go ahead with the execution.”

Legislation enacted in March 2000 specifies lethal injection as Tennessee’s primary method of execution. Inmates who committed their offense and were sentenced to death prior to Jan. 1, 1999, may request electrocution, according to the Tennessee Department of Correction.

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