Tennessee seeks execution dates for 9 death row inmates

Herbert Slatery

FILE – In this Sept. 9, 2019 file photo, Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery, with a bipartisan group of state attorneys general speaks to reporters in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington. Slatery has asked the state Supreme Court to set nine execution dates, bucking a national movement away from capital punishment. Slatery quietly filed the request on Friday, Sept. 20, with no explanation, and the state Supreme Court posted it on its website on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee’s attorney general has asked the state Supreme Court to set execution dates for nine death row prisoners, bucking a national movement away from capital punishment.

Attorney General Herbert Slatery quietly filed the request on Friday with no explanation, and the state Supreme Court later posted it on its website on Tuesday.

“The Tennessee Constitution guarantees victims of crime the right to a ‘prompt and final conclusion of the case after the conviction of sentence,'” Slatery said in a statement Tuesday in response to a request for comment from The Associated Press.

Slatery’s motion came the same day he publicly announced he would challenge a Nashville Criminal Court’s decision to commute the death sentence of black inmate Abu-Ali Abdur’Rahman’s (ah-BOO’-ah-LEE’) (AHB’-dur-RAK’-mahns) to life in prison after concerns were raised that racism tainted the jury selection pool. Slatery argued in his appeal that the court’s order “circumvented established legal procedures.”

Assistant Federal Public Defender Kelley Henry said she was surprised by the request when she received it in the mail on Monday. Seven of the nine men included in Slatery’s motion are represented by the public defender’s office.

“Each case is unique and represents a number of fundamental constitutional problems including innocence, racism, and severe mental illness,” Henry wrote in a statement on Tuesday. “We will oppose the appointed attorney general’s request.”

In Tennessee, the attorney general can request execution dates once juries have delivered death sentences and inmates have exhausted their three-tier appeals process in state courts and the U.S. Supreme Court. The state Supreme Court then schedules the executions. It has not yet scheduled the nine Slatery requested but has scheduled two others for the coming months.

Tennessee has executed five people since it resumed executions about a year ago. The state was second only to Texas in the number of executions it carried out in 2018, the fourth consecutive year in which there have been fewer than 30 executions nationwide. Tennessee executed three people last year; Texas put to death 13.

The nine men in Slatery’s execution request are:

— Byron Black, who was convicted of murder in the 1987 slayings of his girlfriend Angela Clay and her two daughters, Latoya and Lakeisha Clay, in Nashville. He was sentenced to die for the death of Lakeisha Clay and received two life sentences for the other killings.

— Tony V. Carruthers, who was convicted of first-degree murder in the 1994 slayings of Marcellos Anderson, Delois Anderson and Frederick Tucker in Memphis. He was given a death sentence for each conviction.

— Henry Eugene Hodges, who pleaded guilty to first-degree premeditated murder and aggravated robbery in the 1990 slaying of Ronald Bassett in Nashville.

— Donald Ray Middlebrooks, who was convicted of torture and murder in the slaying of 14-year-old Kerrick Majors in Nashville in 1987.The high court reversed the death sentence in 1992 and ordered the case back to trial court for resentencing, but Middlebrooks was eventually given a second death sentence.

— Farris Genner Morris, who was convicted of murder in the 1997 slayings of 15-year-old Erica Hurd and James Ragland in Jackson, as well as the rape of Angela Ragland. A jury imposed the death penalty for Hurd’s killing.

— Harold Wayne Nichols, who was convicted of rape and first-degree felony murder in the 1988 death of Karen Pulley in Hamilton County.

— Pervis Tyrone Payne, who was convicted of murder for the 1987 deaths of Charisse Christopher and her 2-year-old daughter Lacie in Memphis. He was sentenced to death for each of the killings. Payne also was convicted of intending to murder Christopher’s 3-year-old son Nicholas.

— Oscar Franklin Smith, who was convicted of murder in the 1989 triple slayings of his estranged wife Judy Lynn Smoth and her two sons from a previous marriage, Chad and Jason Burnett in Nashville. He was sentenced to death for all three killings.

— Gary Wayne Sutton, who was convicted of first-degree murder in the 1992 slaying of Tommy Griffin in Blount County. A jury sentenced Sutton to death.

In Tennessee, executions are carried out through lethal injection unless the drugs are unavailable, in which case the electric chair is used.

Additionally, death row inmates who were convicted of crimes before January 1999 can choose the electric chair or lethal injection. Tennessee put 56-year-old Stephen West to death by electric chair last month. West was convicted of the 1986 kidnappings and stabbing deaths of a mother and her 15-year-old daughter. He also was convicted of raping the teen.

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