Tennessee’s governor has halted executions for an independent review into lethal injections following an inmate’s last-minute reprieve


Tennessee’s governor has announced a pause of executions in the state amid plans for an independent review into the lethal injection process.

The announcement Monday by Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, follows a last-minute reprieve he issued to Oscar Smith, 72, who was scheduled to be executed April 21 for the 1989 murders of his wife and her two children.

“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.”

After Smith’s reprieve was granted, questions about why the governor – who had already denied Smith’s clemency – would suddenly halt his execution gave rise to calls for a moratorium on the state’s executions.

Now, Tennessee will retain former U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton to review, according to Lee’s office:

• “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”;

• Tennessee Department of Correction “staffing considerations.”

“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.”

Smith, the oldest person on Tennessee’s death row, would have been the first to be executed in the state since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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

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