Gov. Lee Suspends Executions Pending Independent Review of Lethal Injection Process

Tennessee has suspended executions for those on death row after an “oversight” in the lethal injection process of one prisoner caused the execution process to be halted in the prisoner’s final hours.

During the suspension period, a review of the execution process will be conducted, according to Monday statement from the governor’s office.

“An investigation by a respected third party will ensure any operational failures at [the Tennessee Department of Corrections] are thoroughly addressed,” Governor Lee (R) said.  “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.”

“I review each 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 Correction to leave no question that procedures are correctly followed.”

The review will be conducted by former United States Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee Ed Stanton.

Specifically, it will address:

  • 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

The announcement is good news for Oscar Franklin Smith, the inmate who was scheduled for execution on April 21 before being spared due to the procedural mishap.

“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. Further details will be released when available,” Lee said at the time.

In 1990, Smith was sentenced to death by a Davidson County jury for killing his estranged wife, Judy Smith, and her sons Chad Burnett and Jason Burnett. One of the sons was reportedly shot to death, while the other was stabbed to death. A gun and a knife were found at the scene, along with bloody fingerprints identified as Smith’s.

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

Smith’s execution was one of five scheduled to take place this year. The Tennessee Supreme Court will determine rescheduled dates for the 2022 executions, the Governor’s office notes.

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Pete D’Abrosca is a reporter at The Tennessee Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected]. Kaitlin Housler contributed to this report.
Photo “Bill Lee” by Gov. Bill Lee.


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3 Thoughts to “Gov. Lee Suspends Executions Pending Independent Review of Lethal Injection Process”

  1. 83ragtop50

    Watch Lee push this off until he is out of office. He wants the glory of being governor but runs from anything that might tarnish his image – the law be damned.

  2. Tom

    Weak! Just get it done with, use electricity or a firing squad. Death sentences should be a maximum of 5 years on death row then bye bye.

  3. LM

    Firing squads always worked fine.