Tennessee pauses executions for lethal injection review

"I review each death penalty case and believe it is an appropriate punishment for heinous crimes," the governor said.

Updated: May 2, 2022 - 6:25pm

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Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Lee on Monday announced that all state executions scheduled in 2022 will be paused for a review of the lethal injection.

The moratorium came after Tennessee gave temporary reprieve to Oscar Smith hours before his scheduled execution.

"I review each death penalty case and believe it is an appropriate punishment for heinous crimes," Lee said in a press release.

"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," he added.

The United States Supreme Court and the governor declined to stop Smith's death penalty based on the merits of his case, but the state halted Smith's execution over questions around the lethal injection testing preparation.

U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton is leading the independent review of lethal injection. He will look into circumstances "that led to testing the lethal injection chemicals for only potency and sterility but not endotoxins preparing for the April 21 execution" of Smith, as well as the clarity "of the lethal injection process manual that was last updated in 2018, and adherence to testing policies since the update," the press release stated.

The third-party investigator will also look into Tennessee Department of Corrections staffing considerations.

Five executions scheduled this year will be delayed by the investigation and rescheduled by the Tennessee Supreme Court.

Smith, 72, was convicted of killing his estranged wife and her two teenage sons in 1989, The Associated Press reported. His execution was paused last month due to an "oversight" in the lethal injection preparation.

Three of the four people executed in Tennessee since 2019 have chosen death by electric chair rather than lethal injection, the state press release noted. Lethal injection is the states' default execution method, and Smith's was the first to be scheduled since February 2020 due to delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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