TN Senate ensures death penalty remains an option

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Tennessee State Capitol - Nashville, TN (photo contributed)

Senate passes legislation which aims to uphold state’s death penalty statute

April 11, 2014

NASHVILLE –-  State Senators voted Wednesday to close a loophole in current law that allows for the state to use execution to carry out a death sentence if a court should rule lethal injection is unconstitutional but does not address what happens if the chemicals used in the fatal dose are not available.  Senate Bill 2580, sponsored by Senate State and Local Government Committee Chairman Ken Yager (R-Kingston), allows for the death sentence to be carried out through electrocution if the Commissioner of Correction certifies that one or more of the ingredients essential to the lethal injection dose cannot be obtained through no fault of the department.

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The action came as the nation recognized National Crime Victims’ Week, an annual observance to promote victims’ right and honor crime victims and those who advocate on their behalf.

“Those on death row have committed ‘the worst of the worst’ crimes committed in Tennessee,” said Senator Yager of the TN Senate.  “Return to a system that endlessly denies justice to victims of heinous crimes is ‘cruel and unusual’ to victims and their family and friends who suffer much pain and psychological trauma due to the nature of these heinous crimes.”

Lethal injection is the primary method of execution in the state.  The legislation is designed to address delays that could occur in executions due to a shortage of lethal injection drugs.  That shortage could be compounded if the state does not prevail in keeping the anonymity of the department’s lethal injection drug supplier.

There are 75 males and 1 female on death row in Tennessee.  Legislation was passed in 2000 specifying lethal injection for all inmates sentenced to death except for death row inmates who committed their crime prior to January 1, 1999, unless he or she requests electrocution.

The last execution in Tennessee was in December 2009, when multi-murderer Cecil Johnson was put to death by lethal injection for three counts of first degree murder.  Johnson was convicted in 1981 for the triple killing at a convenience market and was given three death sentences by a jury.  Seventeen death row inmates have been sentenced with multiple death sentences.

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