Thursday, February 01, 2007

Bredesen Declares Moratorium on Executions!

Until May anyway.


Governor Phil Bredesen suspended all executions in Tennessee until May 2nd today while a full overhaul of execution procedure’s is conducted. The Governor’s decision will spare the lives of E. J. Harbison, Daryl Holton, Abu Samad, and Pervis Payne, who were all scheduled for execution in the next three months.

I gather from the TCASK website that the Governor's decision may have something to do with the potential of a botched execution. Again, from TCASK:

The lethal injection procedure utilized by Tennessee involves a three drug cocktail similar to that used in most other states. The first drug, thiopental, is meant to anesthetize the inmate. The second drug, pavulon, paralyzes the nervous system, and a dose of potassium chloride causes cardiac arrest. However, thiopental is an extremely unstable anesthetic, and potassium chloride has been described by some experts as causing the maximum amount of pain to the cardiovascular system. Because the second drug, pavulon, paralyzes the inmate, it is highly possible that a condemned person would feel all the effects of the potassium chloride, while being unable to speak or move. Pavulon has been banned for veterinary procedures.

Issuing a moratorium is a positive move on Bredesen's part, but I'll hold my applause until I know more about why the Governor made this decision and what he hopes to learn about capital punishment between now and May.

One week after the moratorium concludes (unless Bredesen extends it), Phillip Workman (pictured) is scheduled to be executed. Questions remain about whether Workman was given a fair trial, and federal courts have, one more than one occasion, issued stays of execution:

Philip Workman was convicted of the murder of a police officer, Lieutenant Ronald Oliver, during a robbery of a Memphis restaurant in 1981. Lt Oliver and two other officers were first to arrive at the scene. As Workman (who has never denied the robbery) fled, shots were fired and Lt Oliver was killed by a single bullet. At the trial, the two police officers testified that they had not fired their weapons, but admitted that they had not seen Workman shoot Oliver. An alleged eyewitness, Harold Davis, said that he was standing 10 feet (three meters) away and saw Workman shoot the officer. The defense lawyers conducted no forensic or ballistics analysis and did not investigate Harold Davis.

Since the trial, however, Harold Davis has retracted his testimony, saying he lied. No one, including police officers and civilians, saw Davis at the scene and his car was not where he claimed to have parked it. An eyewitness has come forward to say that at least one of the other officers fired his gun. This is corroborated by the first police reports, which stated that officers were firing. Medical experts have stated that the fatal wound, to a degree of medical certainty, was not caused by Workman's bullet, raising the possibility that Lt Oliver was killed by a shot fired by one of the other officers.

Five jurors from the original trial have signed affidavits that they would not have voted for a first-degree murder conviction, let alone the death sentence, if they had been presented with this evidence. Two state Supreme Court judges have suggested that clemency is merited in Workman's case.

You can e-mail the Governor at to offer your thoughts on the moratorium, the Workman case, and capital punishment in general.


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