NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — On April 21, 2022, Oscar Smith was scheduled to be executed in Tennessee. In between the time he was served his last meal and his scheduled execution time, Governor Bill Lee stepped in.
Smith’s execution was put on hold due to “an oversight in preparation for lethal injection,” according to a statement from Gov. Lee at the time.
Since then, an independent review has been conducted investigating the circumstances around the testing for lethal injection chemicals.
On Wednesday, the report on the monthslong review was released.
The report found there was no evidence anyone ever told the pharmacy tasked with testing Tennessee’s lethal injection chemicals that it should conduct an endotoxin test on all of them. An endotoxin test is used to detect bacteria.
That issue was found in multiple executions dating back to 2018.
In response to the review, Governor Bill Lee released several steps he is taking:
- Make staffing changes at the department’s leadership level.
- Hire and onboard a permanent TDOC commissioner in January 2023.
- New department leadership will revise the state’s lethal injection protocol, in consultation with the Governor’s office and the Tennessee Attorney General’s office.
- New department leadership will review all training associated with the revised protocol and make appropriate operational updates.
According to the report, Nashville Federal Public Defender Kelley Henry, who represents death row inmates, emailed TDOC asking about the “strength, sterility, stability, potency, and presence of endotoxins” of the lethal injection cocktail before Oscar Smith was set to be executed.
Henry says while the report is concerning, the root of the problem is the lack of transparency around the execution process in Tennessee.
“Until we do away with secrecy, that change isn’t going to make a difference,” Henry said. “The problem we have right now is fundamentally we have people who do not know how to deal with these high-risk sterile injectables.”
She said she is glad the Governor stopped executions and called for this independent investigation, but details like where the state is getting the lethal injection drugs and what experience these pharmacists and groups need to be clearer.
“This is a damning report. But at the end of the day, you have human beings being involved in processes they should not be involved in and they will continue to make mistakes, in particular, with the veil of secrecy they enjoy,” she said.
Henry says in her experience the lethal injection process is painful to inmates and shouldn’t be allowed at all.
“Lethal injection is designed to be sanitized for the public. It is designed for the public to believe this is just a medical procedure and that my clients are just going to sleep. But that is not what is happening. Inside their paralyzed body is an incredibly violent and painful death,” she said.
More specifics like when executions resume and when the changes Lee is calling for will be implemented is not clear at this time.
The ACLU-TN released a statement after the report on the lethal injection operations:
“This disturbing report illustrates the danger that arises when the government operates in secrecy. The state was fully prepared to execute seven people using improperly tested, and at times defective, drugs that create the sensation of drowning or burning alive – in the name of all Tennesseans. Because of state laws that allow secrecy in execution protocols, these horrific errors would not have come to light had the governor not ordered this investigation. The death penalty is not only unconstitutional, but a failed government program – broken and serving no one. We call for complete transparency regarding the state’s execution practices; urge the governor to impose a moratorium on the use of the death penalty while he fully reviews this broken system; and encourage him to identify other, more effective ways to protect public safety.”ACLU-TN
More details should come as Gov. Lee becomes available for comment over the next few weeks.
To read through the full report, CLICK HERE.