Death penalty in Tennessee

By: Rob Pratt
By: Rob Pratt

Knoxville (WVLT) As Knox County prosecutors try to put four more people on death row, there are larger questions about the death penalty in Tennessee.

Convicted killers are spending decades on death row, as courts repeatedly postpone execution dates.

With lawsuits claiming lethal injection causes unnecessary pain, there is a potential for more delays than ever before.

Volunteer TV's Rob Pratt takes a closer look at the backlog and what some experts are saying about it.

Most agree the state's announcement that it will seek the death penalty against all four carjacking, murder suspects is no surprise.

But even if the state gets what it's asking for at trial next year, executions could still be decades away.

Penny White, University of TN College Law Director says, "well I don't think it's going to be any shorter than it's been in the past."

U.T. Law Professor Penny White was a Tennessee Supreme Court Justice a dozen years ago.

"We are talking about the state taking a life, we want to get it right, and I think with the great controversy over how to legally kill someone, that we should expect that the time table will be even longer than it's been in the past."

There are 96 people on death row in Tennessee.

The average stay since the current death penalty law was enacted in 1977 is more than two decades.

Al Schmutzer says, "over three times as many have died of natural causes on death row as have been executed. That, in itself, is an indictment of the system."

Former District Attorney General Al Schmutzer is part of a legislative committee studying the death penalty.

While he's never opposed capital punishment, he says the long delays are destroying the credibility of the system.

Schmutzer says, "if we cannot actually carry out what we say we are going to do in a reasonable amount of time, then we really need to get rid of it because I think it's doing more harm than good.

If you'd like to learn more about death row in Tennessee, visit the state department of corrections website.

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