“The members of the committee affirmed today that Tennessee’s capital punishment system is a mess,” said Reverend Stacy Rector, Executive Director of the Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killing. “The death penalty in Tennessee is dangerously broken and our state representatives need to take steps to address all its problems.”
According to the ABA Assessment, the Tennessee capital punishment system suffers from serious flaws. Tennessee continues to sentence people with severe mental disabilities to death, racial and geographic disparities continue to plague the system (40% of Tennessee’s death row population is African-American), and inadequate defense counsel and flaws in preserving DNA evidence cause questions regarding the reliability of death penalty convictions. Moreover, nearly all of Tennessee’s 102 death row inmates were indigent and could not afford a lawyer at trial. There are several cases where serious questions exist regarding the factual guilt or innocence of the convicted man.
“At the very least, Tennesseans deserve to know that the capital punishment system is functioning properly,” said Rector. “The only way to begin to address it flaws and ensure that an innocent person is not executed is to conduct a full study examining every aspect of the system to ensure its reliability.”
The proposed legislation would create a balanced study commission with representatives appointed by the Governor, the Senate, and the House, as well as lawyers for both the defense and prosecution, mental health advocates, and victims advocates. The commission would make recommendations to the legislature as to how the identified problems should be addressed. The bill passed with bi-partisan support and will now head to the full Judiciary Committee.
“We cannot stop with a review of our so-called ‘sloppy’ execution protocols,” said Rector. “We must examine the entire system in order to address the wide-ranging problems before Tennessee makes an irreversible mistake.”
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