The governor of Tennessee has suspended executions for an independent review of lethal injections following an inmate’s last-minute reprieve

“Questions surrounding the preparation for lethal injection testing … have resulted in a temporary reprieve from the governor,” Lee’s office said in a press release Monday. When Lee issued the order, he tweeted only that he was motivated by an “oversight in preparation for a lethal injection.”

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

• “Circumstances which led to the testing of lethal injection chemicals only for potency and sterility, but not for endotoxins in preparation for the April 21 execution”;

• “Clarity of the lethal injection process manual which was last updated in 2018, and compliance with testing policies since the update”;

• Tennessee Department of Correction “Staffing Considerations.”

“An investigation by a respected third party will ensure that any operational failures at TDOC are carefully addressed,” the governor said in the statement. “We will suspend scheduled executions until the end of 2022 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 start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I review every death penalty case and believe it is appropriate punishment for heinous crimes,” Lee said Monday. “However, the death penalty is an extremely serious matter, and I expect the Tennessee Department of Corrections to leave no doubt that procedures are being followed correctly.”


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