Tennessee Supreme Court schedules 2 more execution dates

Published 8:27 am Friday, January 17, 2020


Associated Press

NASHVILLE (AP) — The Tennessee Supreme Court on Wednesday scheduled dates to execute two more death row inmates, but justices still haven’t ruled on the attorney general’s requests to set seven more.

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Continuing Tennessee’s trend toward capital punishment, the court scheduled Oscar Franklin Smith to be put to death on June 4 and Harold Wayne Nichols to be executed on Aug. 4.

The state was second only to Texas in the number of executions it carried out in 2019. The country as a whole has been moving away from putting inmates to death.

Nichols, now 60, was convicted of rape and first-degree felony murder in the 1988 death of Karen Pulley in Hamilton County.

Smith, now 70, was convicted of murder in the 1989 triple slayings of his estranged wife Judy Lynn Smith and her two sons from a previous marriage, Chad and Jason Burnett , in Nashville.

Tennessee resumed executions in August 2018, and four of the six prisoners put to death since have chosen the electric chair, a method no other state has used since 2009.

The court found no extenuating circumstances that would warrant commuting the two men’s death sentences.

Kelley Henry, supervisory assistant federal public defender in Nashville, said Smith has maintained his innocence all along.

“We recently learned that at least two jurors who voted to sentence Mr. Smith to death mistakenly believed that a life sentence meant a mere 13 years in prison,” Henry said in a statement Wednesday. “We will explore all options on Mr. Smith’s behalf.”

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery requested all nine execution dates in September. That same day, he sought to reinstate a death sentence for Abu-Ali Abudur’Rahman, a black man who was resentenced to life in prison in August after raising claims that racism tainted the jury selection process. The state Supreme Court has since stayed his execution date of April 2020.

The next scheduled execution is Feb. 20, when the state plans to put 59-year-old inmate Nicholas Sutton to death. Sutton was sentenced to death in 1985 for fatally stabbing fellow inmate Carl Estep after a confrontation over a drug deal.

Sutton was 23 at the time and already serving a life sentence for killing his grandmother when he was 18. He had also been convicted of murdering Charles Almon and John Large in North Carolina when he was 18.

Sutton’s clemency request says he has transformed from a killer to someone who saved the lives of prison employees and fellow inmates.