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Lee: Execution not ‘right thing to do’ due to resource toll

By KIMBERLEE KRUESI
Associated Press
NASHVILLE (AP) — Gov. Bill Lee on Thursday said he delayed the execution of a Tennessee death row inmate because he did not believe the amount of resources needed to pull off an execution in the middle of a pandemic was the “right thing to do.”
The Republican announced last week that the execution of Harold Wayne Nichols, 59, would not take place this year. Lee had cited challenges caused by COVID-19 as the sole reason of temporarily delaying the planned Aug. 4 electrocution — a reason the state’s highest court had previously dismissed as cause to delay the capital case.
It was the first time the governor had intervened in a pending execution case.
“That individual, the inmate there, is allowed due process in order to get to a place where they can present a clemency request and they did not believe they had the appropriate environment to provide a clemency request,” Lee told reporters during his weekly news briefing.
“And it’s important that we look at every single case completely and their clemency requests completely and because that couldn’t be done, it didn’t make sense to move forward there,” he said.
Additionally, Lee explained that limited access to the state’s prisons — particularly to faith leaders who meet with death row inmates — heavily influenced his decision.
“(Focusing) the resources to get that done did not seem like the right thing to do at the time,” Lee said, noting that the Department of Correction did not ask him to intervene.
Nichols had chosen the electric chair over Tennessee’s preferred execution method of lethal injection — an option allowed in the state for inmates who were convicted of crimes before January 1999.
Tennessee resumed executions in August 2018 at a pace topped only by Texas. During that time, seven Tennessee inmates have been put to death, with only two selecting lethal injection.
Nichols was convicted of rape and first-degree felony murder in the 1988 death of 21-year-old Karen Pulley in Hamilton County. Court documents say he raped and hit Pulley on the head several times with a board. She was found alive by her roommates but died the following day. Nichols was sentenced to death in 1990.
Feb. 20 was the most recent execution in Tennessee, when Nicholas Sutton died in the electric chair. The Volunteer State is one of six in which inmates can choose the electric chair, but it’s the only state that has used the chair in recent years.