As I write today, my thoughts are with you, and everyone in our global family. Like me, I’m sure you are struck by the profound changes and uncertainty that recent weeks have brought us.
TADP’s office in East Nashville sustained minor damage during the March 3rd tornado, but our neighbors just two streets over experienced destruction that will take months to address. Our beloved TADP Board Chair Bob Goodrich died on March 7th after a three-year struggle with leukemia, and COVID-19 has all but shut down the state.
Today the Metro Public Health Department, “Safer at Home Order,” went into effect for Nashville and Davidson County residents and businesses. All businesses not performing essential services have been ordered closed for 14 days. I was already mostly working from home, but this order means that I am totally working from home now.
In these difficult times, we are also thinking of the most vulnerable and marginalized in our communities—including those in our jails, prisons, and on death row. Even amid other crises, TADP’s work to stop executions and end the death penalty in Tennessee continues, and we are grateful for your partnership in that work.
TADP had plans to launch a statewide campaign on March 11. We have postponed that campaign because of COVID-19. However, we are monitoring the situation and will launch as soon as it is strategically wise to do so.
On the legislative front, the Tennessee Alliance for the Severe Mental Illness Exclusion Coalition (TASMIE) successfully advocated for the bill to exclude those with severe mental illness from the death penalty, which passed through the full House Judiciary Committee (25 members) on March 11!
This bipartisan vote is another huge hurdle for this legislation. The Tennessee General Assembly is now in recess until at least June 1, but in the meantime, TASMIE is developing plans to conduct online educational forums about the bill, including the use of the documentary film Too Ill to Execute.
If you have not yet had the opportunity to watch this powerful film, I encourage you to do so during this time when so many of us find ourselves isolating. Share it with your friends and ask them to watch it as well.
And though a few years old now, the TADP short film To Honor Life is another important educational tool to introduce Tennesseans to the problems with the death penalty. Again, this film is a great way to introduce the myths and facts about the death penalty system and to share powerful stories of the system’s impact on those caught up in it.
On March 18, attorneys for Oscar Smith, who is scheduled to be executed on June 4 in Tennessee, requested that the Tennessee Supreme Court stay his execution because of COVID-19 and its impact on his legal team.
Assistant Federal Defender Kelley Henry stated in the motion to the court, “It would be irresponsible and against the public’s interest to conduct the necessary investigation during this pandemic. Mr. Smith’s team cannot conduct the work necessary to fulfill their obligation to him without putting themselves and others at risk. There is a tension between counsels’ obligation to Mr. Smith and to their own personal safety and that of their families and co-workers.”
Three other Tennessee inmates are scheduld to be executed this year: Harold Nichols on Aug. 4; Byron Black on Oct. 8; and Pervis Payne on Dec. 3.
TADP will continue to share information and updates as we have them. For now, please take good care of yourselves.