Death row inmate attorney: ‘Critical time’ lost amid virus

Published 8:35 am Friday, April 10, 2020

NASHVILLE (AP) — The legal team fighting for a delay in the June 4 execution of a Tennessee death row inmate says it has lost “critical time” due to the new coronavirus and restrictions to curb its spread, the lead lawyer wrote Wednesday.
In a state Supreme Court filing, the attorney for inmate Oscar Smith cited increasingly stringent government restrictions, including Gov. Bill Lee’s stay-at-home order, as Tennessee’s count of coronavirus cases rises.
Smith’s legal team asked for the stay of execution due to COVID-19 last month, pointing to the travel, interviews and other tasks needed to pursue a clemency request and court challenges.
“Mr. Smith’s legal team continue to abide by the orders of Nashville Mayor Cooper and Governor Lee,” Smith’s attorney, Kelley Henry, said. “But doing so has resulted in the loss of critical time needed to represent Mr. Smith during this crucial period.”
Additionally, the filing says holding an execution during a pandemic will require more safeguards to protect witnesses to the execution, including news reporters, lawyers and others, whose presence also could pose a risk of virus transmission to the staff and inmates at the prison where executions are carried out.
Smith’s attorneys also point out that Texas has delayed three executions due to the spread of the coronavirus in the state.
Attorney General Herbert Slatery’s office last month argued against a stay based on claims involving ongoing litigation and clemency efforts. But he also wrote that the court “is in the best position to determine whether a stay of execution should be granted in response to coronavirus-related issues affecting the courts of this State.”
Smith was convicted of murder in the 1989 slayings of his estranged wife and her two sons from a previous marriage.

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