Tennessee and Ohio stay executions over lethal injection concerns

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A little over a week after Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced he was staying five state killings planned for this year, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced he was postponing the September execution of Kareem Jackson.

Both states execute by lethal injection, and both cited issues with that method as their reason for issuing stays. 

In Tennessee, Oscar Smith’s late April execution was stayed by the governor about an hour before it was to take place. On May 2, Lee released a statement explaining that, “The death penalty is an extremely serious matter, and I expect the Tennessee Department of Correction to leave no question that procedures are correctly followed.” He postponed it while the state conducts “a third-party review of a lethal injection testing oversight,” he said.

The Tennesseean then reported, based on public records it obtained, including text messages, that there were questions about whether the execution drugs had been properly tested in advance. 

All five executions scheduled in Tennessee, including Smith’s, have been put on hold for the year. The Tennessee Supreme Court will determine new dates for the executions.

According to Lee’s announcement, the independent review will be conducted by former U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton, who will look at:

  • Circumstances that led to testing the lethal injection chemicals for only potency and sterility but not endotoxins preparing for the April 21 execution;
  • Clarity of the lethal injection process manual that was last updated in 2018, and adherence to testing policies since the update;
  • TDOC staffing considerations.

Since 2019, three of Tennessee’s four executions were by electric chair. Prisoners must choose either electrocution or lethal injection, with lethal injection the default method. 

In Ohio, DeWine said he was rescheduling Jackson’s September 15 execution date to December 10, 2025, because of the state’s inability to obtain lethal injection drugs from pharmaceutical companies. Ohio’s last execution was in July 2018 because of a lack of supply.

According to Cleveland, DeWine wants state lawmakers to approve an alternative execution method, “a step the legislature has so far shown no interest in taking.” DeWine is concerned that if the state uses drugs meant for medical use in executions, pharmaceutical companies will refuse to sell any of its drugs to the state.“That would endanger the ability of thousands of Ohioans — such as Medicaid recipients, state troopers, and prison inmates — to get drugs through state programs,” the outlet reports. 

As a result, the governor repeatedly postpones execution dates (this is the fourth time Jackson’s has been rescheduled). According to the Death Penalty Information Center, Of the 68 execution dates set for August 2018 through the end of 2022, 45 have been rescheduled after being halted by reprieves issued by former Governor John Kasich or by Gov. DeWine.

Quisi Bryan, convicted of killing a Cleveland police officer in 2000, is the next person scheduled to be killed. Still, it is expected DeWine will postpone his October 26 execution date as well.

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