Let’s Wait on the U.S. Supreme Court

Yesterday, three Tennessee legislators called upon Governor Bredesen to move forward with the execution of Paul Dennis Reid who was convicted for the murders of seven people in the 1990’s. The leaders urged the Governor to execute Reid by some other method available to the state, circumventing the controversy concerning the lethal injection protocols which will be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday. The legislators claim that Tennessee requires the state to carry out executions by any other constitutional means when one method is unavailable due to a judicial ruling. Read more here.

However, according to my reading of the Tennessee code, the state cannot move forward with Reid’s execution by another method because Reid would either have to choose electrocution, waiving his right to lethal injection, or the courts would have to rule that lethal injection, as a method of execution, is unconstitutional. What appears to be a point of confusion is that the U.S. Supreme Court is not considering the constitutionality of lethal injection as a method of execution but is instead considering the constitutionality of the particular three-drug protocol currently utilized in the process of lethal injection. These are very different things.

Therefore, the state of Tennessee cannot move to execute Reid according to Tennessee code which asserts that the method of execution in Tennessee shall be lethal injection unless electrocution is chosen by an inmate who has been sentenced for crimes committed before Jan. 1, 1999.

Representative Mumpower, one of the three calling on Governor Bredesen to push for Reid’s execution, even goes so far as to call the Governor “the champion” of Paul Dennis Reid and others on death row because the Governor is not pushing for the execution. Such a characterization is not only unfair but simply not based in fact. Sadly, it seems that these legislators, though perhaps believing that they are standing up for Reid’s victims, are only encouraging a false notion that the law will allow for his execution by another means when I would argue that it doesn’t. I fear that their actions set up these already traumatized families for more disappointment, another reason why the death penalty does no service to victims’ families.

Just imagine if Reid had gotten life without parole instead of death. He would be serving his sentence, locked up in his cell more than 20 hours a day, without the constant attention of the media and politicians invoking his name. These families wouldn’t have to be continually confronted with the worst tragedy of their lives while they wait for some supposed closure that may never even come. Instead, perhaps they could begin to find some peace.

My heart goes out to those who have suffered such horrific loss at the hands of Paul Reid. However, playing politics with such painful circumstances only compounds the tragedy.

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