The state's review of its lethal injection procedure is expected to be released in the coming weeks, nearly seven months after a Tennessee man's execution was delayed at the eleventh hour.
Gov. Bill Lee delayed five executions earlier this year after issues were found approximately one hour before Oscar Franklin Smith was set to be executed by lethal injection on April 21. Soon after, the state retained former U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton to conduct an independent review and likely recommend corrective actions. Medical Endoscopy Camera
The report is complete, Lee's office said Friday morning. His office has declined to release the report to reporters or Smith's attorneys.
Public release of it and any next steps are expected by Dec. 31 at the latest, Lee said. He told reporters Friday morning he had just begun to read the lengthy report and couldn't comment on what it contains.
"We've just begun analyzing, but we'll look at it to see what the next steps are regarding any actions necessary," he told reporters Friday. "This is a very serious matter that we've taken very taken very seriously and will continue to do so...Once we have read the report and assimilate the information that will make the report public so folks can know exactly what the process is."
Lee denied he was burying the report's findings over the holidays.
"The report will be entirely public, every piece of it, every aspect of it," he said. "I don't think it's gonna get buried because Tennesseans have an interest in what's happening here, as they should."
It was not immediately clear whether Lee intends to implement any changes by the end of the year in two weeks' time.
Since April, state agencies have referred to what happened as an "oversight in adhering to the TDOC lethal injection protocol." The protocol laid out in state law is lengthy, detailing how to obtain and preserve the pharmaceuticals, as well as prepare for the injection itself.
But an investigation by The Tennessean found the state has not followed its own lethal injection protocols since 2018, in which time the state executed two people by the method.
Kelley Henry, a federal public defender who represents several death row defendants including Smith, called for an independent review early on and is pushing for "sorely needed" personnel and protocol changes to Tennessee executions.
Lee made "the right decision" in ordering the investigation, she told The Tennessean on Friday and the report is "the first step in setting the record straight" after the state attorney general told a federal judge of “inaccuracies” in its filings on other executions in the state.
"Tennesseans deserve transparency by release of the full report," she said in a statement. "We need careful and considered evaluation of this report."
Friday's news release did not contain details on what went wrong in April, nor if the current execution reprieves would be extended. Lee issued temporary reprieves to the five men set to be executed in 2022; the state has not yet set any execution dates for 2023.
It was also not immediately clear what, if any, steps the state intends to take around any of the report's findings.
"I thank the independent investigators for their thorough work on this extremely serious matter," Lee said in Friday's news release.
Tennessee death row inmates sentenced before 1999 are given the choice between lethal injection and the electric chair. Lethal injection is the default method for those sentenced to death since that time.
Smith's execution was set to be the first since February 2020 due to COVID-19 delays. He was one of five death row inmates set to be executed in Tennessee this year.
The Tennessee Supreme Court has the power to set new execution dates. None are currently scheduled.
Smith, 72, has been on death row for 32 years for the 1989 killings of his estranged wife, Judith Robirds Smith, 35, and her two sons from a previous marriage, 16-year-old Chad Burnett and 13-year-old Jason Burnett.
Tonsil Forceps Reach reporter Mariah Timms at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-259-8344 and follow her on Twitter @MariahTimms.