Tennessee

Tennessee

BOOKS: "The Inferno: A Southern Morality Tale"

A new book, "The Inferno: A Southern Morality Tale," by Joseph Ingle, chronicles the compelling story of Philip Workman, who was executed in Tennessee in 2007. The author, a minister of the United Church of Christ who has spent decades working with those on death row, served as Mr. Workman's pastor and tells the story from his own viewpoint, as well as those of others familiar with the case. Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking, called The Inferno "the most detailed, intimate and complete look at a death row prisoner that I have encountered."  Workman's case gained attention because of serious doubts about his guilt. His conviction was based largely on the testimony of a single eyewitness, who later admitted he was not present at the scene of the crime. Sr. Prejean said, "This is a remarkable book . . . that will leave your soul transformed." The book will be released April 2 and is available for pre-order through Amazon.com.

Federal Court Overturns FDA's Approval of Foreign Shipments of Lethal Injection Drugs

Judge Richard LeonOn March 27, a federal District Court held that foreign-manufactured sodium thiopental was improperly approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in executions.  Judge Richard Leon (pictured) of the District Court of the District of Columbia ordered any correctional departments in possession of the drug to return it to the FDA. The ruling granted summary judgment in favor of a lawsuit filed by death row inmates in Arizona, California, and Tennessee against the FDA. Those states, along with several others, had obtained sodium thiopental, an anesthetic used in lethal injections, from foreign sources after the sole U.S. manufacturer ceased production. The inmates contended "that unapproved foreign thiopental will fail to anesthetize plaintiffs properly during execution, causing conscious suffocation, pain, and cardiac arrest." According to Judge Leon, the foreign sodium thiopental "is a misbranded drug and an unapproved new drug" and "the FDA neither approved nor reviewed thiopental for safety and effectiveness." A January 2011 statement released by the FDA said "[r]eviewing substances imported or used for the purpose of state-authorized lethal injection clearly falls outside of FDA's explicit public health role." The judge disagreed, saying "the FDA appears to be simply wrapping itself in the flag of law enforcement discretion to justify its authority and masquerade an otherwise seemingly callous indifference to the health consequences of those imminently facing the executioner's needle."

Recently Cleared Tennessee Inmate Added to List of Exonerations

Gussie Vann of Tennessee has been added to the list of those exonerated from death row following the dismissal of all charges against him in September 2011.  Vann becomes the 139th former death row inmate exonerated since 1973. Vann was originally convicted and sentenced to death in 1994 for a sexual assault and murder of his own daughter, Necia Vann, in 1992. However, in 2008 following state post-conviction review, Circuit Court Senior Judge Donald P. Harris held that Vann was entitled to a new trial because his defense attorneys failed to hire forensic experts to challenge the state’s allegations of sexual abuse.  (Vann v. State, Order, Post-conviction No. 99-312, 10th Judicial Dist., McMinn Cty., May 28, 2008). Judge Harris wrote that this failure led to Vann being convicted on “inaccurate, exaggerated and speculative medical testimony."  (Id. Memorandum, at 23).   At the post-conviction hearing, forensic experts contradicted the state’s earlier testimony and said there were no signs of recent sexual abuse on the victim. Judge Harris described the failings of Vann’s original attorneys as “not only prejudicial, but disastrous.” (Id.)  The state elected not to appeal this ruling, though it did try to find grounds for a conviction on a lesser offense. Ultimately all charges were dropped by the state on September 22, 2011.

DPIC RESOURCES: New State Pages Now Available

DPIC is pleased to announce the completion of our State Information Pages for all 50 states and the District of Columbia.  These state profiles provide historical and current information on the death penalty for each state, including famous cases, past legislative actions, and links to key organizations and state officials.  For frequently updated information, such as execution totals, the size of death row, or the number of exonerations, see our State-by-State Database.  Readers are encouraged to send additional information, pictures, and links to organizations in their state.  You can reach the State Information Pages through the "State by State" button at the top of every page on our website or under the "Resources" tab in our main menu.

NEW RESOURCES: States Ranked by Executions Per Death Sentence

DPIC has updated its Executions Per Death Death Sentence page to reflect data through 2010.  This page lists states in order of the percentage of death sentences resulting in an execution since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.  If every death sentence resulted in an execution, the state would be at 100%, or a rate of 1.00.  Using this ratio of executions per death sentence, the first five states are Virginia (.725), Texas (.498), Utah (.368), Missouri (.347), and Delaware (.311).  Of those states that have carried out at least one execution, the five states with the lowest rate of execution are Pennsylvania (.008), California (.015), Idaho (.025), Oregon (.028), and Tennessee (.035).  Four states with the death penalty during this time period had no executions: Kansas, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and New York.  The latter two have abandoned the death penalty.  Nationally, about 15% of death sentences have resulted in an execution (a rate of .150).  Another measure of state execution rates is executions per capita (population).  Under this standard, Oklahoma and Texas are the leading states.

Update on Lethal Injection Issue

In a clear national trend, seven states (Alabama, Arizona, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, and South Carolina) have used pentobarbital instead of sodium thiopental in their executions in 2011. The most recent such execution was that of Donald Beaty in Arizona on May 25, following a temporary stay as the state made a sudden switch to the new drug.  Ohio is the only one of the seven states to use pentobarbital as the sole drug in its lethal-injection process.  At least five states (Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and South Carolina) that acquired sodium thiopental through an overseas source have had the drug seized by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.  In addition, Arizona was instructed by the DEA not to use its foreign sodium thiopental just prior to the May 25 execution. Arkansas and California also have supplies of sodium thiopental originally obtained from a supplier in Great Britain.  In Nebraska, questions about its supply of sodium thiopental--obtained from a company in India--has postponed the execution of Carey Dean Moore.  South Dakota's sodium thiopental was also reportedly obtained from India.  Other states like Georgia, Louisiana, and Virginia have indicated they intend to switch to pentobarbital in future executions.

LETHAL INJECTION: Latest Foreign Supplier of Drugs for U.S. Executions Refuses to Continue

When the sole U.S. supplier of a drug used by all death penalty states announced it was halting production earlier this year, many states turned to sources overseas.  In particular, Nebraska obtained a large quantity of the drug--sodium thiopental--from a company in Mumbai, India.  Now that company has announced it will no longer supply the drug for use in lethal injections.  In a statement released to the media, Kayem Pharmaceutical Pvt. Ltd. said, "In view of the sensitivity involved with sale of our thiopental sodium to various jails/prisons in USA and as alleged to be used for the purpose of lethal injection, we voluntary declare that we as Indian Pharma Dealer who cherish the Ethos of Hinduism (A believer even in non-livings as the creation of God) refrain ourselves in selling this drug where the purpose is purely for Lethal Injection and its misuse."  Earlier this year, the sole U.S. manufacturer of the same drug, Hospira Inc., similarly announced that it wanted no part in supplying drugs for executions. Nebraska death row inmate Carey Moore is challenging the legality of the state’s purchase of the drug.  According to a motion filed with the Nebraska Supreme Court, there is no evidence that Kayem Pharmaceutical is registered with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) or is authorized to deliver drugs to the U.S. There is also evidence that Nebraska received a generic form of the drug, contrary to the state's execution protocol.

Tennessee Executes Billy Ray Irick in First Execution Since 2009

Over sharp dissents by justices of the U.S. and Tennessee Supreme Courts and lingering questions about the prisoner's history of mental illness and the efficacy of the state's lethal-injection protocol, Tennessee executed Billy Ray Irick (pictured) on August 9. He was the first person executed by the state since 2009. Justice Sonia Sotomayor described the process as a "rush to execute" and a descent into "barbarism." In the days leading up to the execution, the Tennessee Supreme Court and Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam rejected Irick's request for a stay or clemency. The state Supreme Court ruled on August 6 that Irick had failed to show his challenge to the execution protocol was likely to succeed on appeal, a requirement for the court to allow the lawsuit to proceed. Judge Sharon Lee dissented from the majority decision, writing, "The harm to Mr. Irick of an unconstitutional execution is irreparable. Yet the harm to the State from briefly delaying the execution until after appellate review is minimal, if any." Governor Bill Haslam declined to exercise his clemency power in Irick's case, saying that the judicial review of the case was "extremely thorough." Gene Shiles, Irick's attorney disagreed: "The truth is no facts relating to Billy’s state mind at the time of the offenses — including his hallucinations and talking to 'the devil' were ever considered by a single court on the merits. These facts, the most important to reasoned decisions as to guilt and punishment, were instead 'defaulted' and never weighed because they were determined to be untimely — raised too long after the trial." The U.S. Supreme Court denied a stay, but Justice Sonia Sotomayor strongly dissented from that denial, writing, "In refusing to grant Irick a stay, the Court today turns a blind eye to a proven likelihood that the State of Tennessee is on the verge of inflicting several minutes of torturous pain on an inmate in its custody, while shrouding his suffering behind a veneer of paralysis. I cannot in good conscience join in this 'rush to execute' without first seeking every assurance that our precedent permits such a result. If the law permits this execution to go forward in spite of the horrific final minutes that Irick may well experience, then we have stopped being a civilized nation and accepted barbarism." The Tennessean reported that Irick's execution was "certain to fuel a fierce national debate surrounding the drugs used to kill him, and if they amount to state-sanctioned torture." Federal public defender Kelley Henry said Irick exhibited signs of pulmonary edema during an execution that took more than twenty minutes. Henry said media witnesses had reported that “Mr. Irick ‘gulped for an extended period of time,’ was ‘choking,’ ‘gasping,’ ‘coughing,’ and that ‘his stomach was moving up and down.’ Witnesses described movement, including movement of the head, after the consciousness check. This means that the second and third drugs were administered even though Mr. Irick was not unconscious,” Henry said. Media reports indicated that the second and third drugs, a paralytic agent and potassium chloride, would cause a pain similar to drowning and being burned alive. 

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