Governor of Tennessee Calls for an Independent Review of Lethal Injections; Executions Halted

Bryan Dijkhuizen

Tennessee's governor has ordered a halt to executions in the state, pending the results of an independent investigation of the state's lethal injection procedure.

"Questions surrounding lethal injection testing preparation ... resulted in a temporary reprieve by the governor," Lee's office said Monday in a news release. When Lee issued the order, he tweeted only that it was prompted by an "oversight in preparation for lethal injection."

This follows a last-minute reprieve granted by Republican Gov. Bill Lee to Oscar Smith, 72, for the 1989 murders of his wife and her two children.

In response to inquiries about why the governor — who had previously refused Smith mercy — would now postpone his execution, demands for a moratorium on all of the state's executions became louder and louder.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, the suspension comes at a time when medications used in fatal injections, as well as how they are purchased by states, are increasingly protected from public scrutiny.

"An investigation by a respected third party will ensure any operational failures at TDOC are thoroughly addressed," the governor said in the release. "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.
"Governor Lee's decision to pause executions pending an independent review of Tennessee's lethal injection protocol shows great leadership," Kelley Henry, chief of the capital habeas unit in Nashville's Federal Public Defender's Office, said Monday in a statement.

The presence of endotoxins in the chemicals, according to Henry in an interview on Monday, would increase the likelihood that a convict would endure agony and suffering during their execution (though she added she believes even if the protocol works as intended, it would still cause "unconstitutional" pain and suffering for the inmate).

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