General Information

Death Penalty: Yes
Date of Reinstatement (following Furman v. Georgia): February 27, 1974
Location of Death Row/Executions: Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville 

Capital: Nashville
Population: 6,346,105
Governor: Bill Lee
Legislative Information: Senate, House of Representatives


Death Sentences 1977-2015
Death Row Exonerations

DPIC's State Database for information on executions, death row population and other statistics in Tennessee
History of the Death Penalty

A bluegrass concert at Nashville's historic Station Inn.  Photo by James Staub.

History of the Death Penalty

Famous Capital Cases

Philip Workman

Workman was executed in 2007 for the death of police officer Ronald Oliver, though later ballistics evidence suggested that the bullet that killed Oliver did not match Workman's gun, and may have come from the gun of another officer on the scene.

Pervis Payne

Payne's case resulted in the Supreme Court decision Payne v. Tennessee (1991), which allowed victim impact statements to be heard in the sentencing phase of a  trial. Payne is still on death row in Tennessee, as of January 2016.

Notable Exonerations

Paul Gregory House

Charges against House were dropped in 2009 after he spent 23 years on death row and his case was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Notable Commutations/clemencies

Gaile Owens

Governor Phil Bredesen commuted her sentence to life in 2010 after she served for over 20 years for hiring someone to kill her husband. Owens was willing to plead guilty for a life sentence at trial, but because her co-defendant would not, the plea bargain was rescinded.

In 1965, Governor Frank Clement commuted the sentences of everyone on Tennessee's death row after an abolition bill was defeated by one vote.

Milestones in Abolition Efforts

Tennessee had a study committee in 2007-2009 that recommended changes to the current structure, but not abolition.
Executive moratorium in 2007 for 90 days while lethal injection protocol was examined.
In 1965, Tennessee’s Senate voted to repeal the death penalty and repeal only lost in the House by one vote.
Tennessee was one of the first four states to exclude those with intellectual disabilities from the death penalty, doing so in 1990.
Tennessee only resumed executing people in 2000. The state went from 1960-2000 with no executions.

Tennessee's "firsts"

In 1838, Tennessee became the first state to give juries discretion in sentencing those convicted of murder, turning away from the traditional mandatory death sentence.
During the Progressive era (1890’s-1920’s),Tennessee was the only former Confederate state to legislatively abolish execution for murder. The 1915 bill was vetoed by the governor, but went into effect because his veto came too late. In 1919, the death penalty was reinstated.

Other interesting facts

Tennessee was the last Southern state to resume executions in the modern era.


Tennesseans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty

American Bar Association Tennessee Death Penalty Assessment

Department of Corrections

Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference

Victims' services




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Many thanks to Tennesseans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty for contributing to this page.