Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery asked the Tennessee Supreme Court Thursday to set execution dates for eight death row inmates.
The request originally came from the Tennessee Department of Corrections (TDOC), which Slattery said is “required by law to carry out death sentences by lethal injection.” But getting that done after June 1 is “uncertain,” Slatery said, “due to the ongoing difficulty in obtaining the necessary lethal injection chemicals.”
Slatery and TDOC want execution dates set for:
• Donnie Johnson
, convicted in Shelby County for murder in 1985.
• Stephen Michael West
, convicted in Union county for murder, kidnapping , and rape in 1987.
• Edmund Zagorski
, convicted in Robertson County for murder in 1984.
• Leroy Hall
, convicted in Hamilton County for murder and arson in 1992.
• Abu-Ali Abdur'Rahman
, convicted in Davidson County for murder, assault, and robbery in 1987.
• Charles Walton Wright
, convicted in Davidson County for murder in 1985.
• Nicholas Todd Sutton
, convicted in Morgan County of murder in 1986.
• David Earl Miller
, convicted in Knox county for murder in 1982.
“In each of these cases, decades have passed since juries in multiple districts across the
state sentenced the defendants to death,” reads a motion filed with the Supreme Court Thursday. “Years of delay between sentencing and execution undermines confidence in our criminal justice system.”
Execution dates have been set previously in all of the cases, according to the motion. Each defendant has completed the appeals process and “there is no legal basis for denying the state’s request to carry out their criminal sentences.”
But all of the cases were put on hold, awaiting a judgment on the constitutionality of the state’s lethal injection protocol, which included the use of pentobarbital. The barbiturate causes respiratory arrest in high doses.
The court waited three years on a decision and in that time, death-penalty opponents worked with drug companies to prevent states from getting the drug. One drug company, Lundbeck, won’t sell the drug to prisons to carry out lethal injections.
The judgement eventually cleared Tennessee to use pentobarbital but TDOC “currently has none on hand and no known source to obtain more,” reads the motion.
On January 8, though, TDOC Commissioner Tony Parker revised the state’s lethal injection protocol, according to Slatery’s motion. The new process uses a three-drug combination of midazolam, vecuronium bromide, and potassium chloride.
In the motion, Slatery outlined judgments in several other states approving the use of midazolam, a drug used for anesthesia and more. In lethal injections, the drug is used to ease pain and suffering.
But Slatery said the defendants will ask for execution delays while appealing the new injection protocol.
“Pointing to anecdotal evidence from news reports, defendants will argue that midazolam is not effective in preventing pain and suffering caused by the second and third drugs of the protocol,” he wrote. “And they will ask (the Tennessee Supreme Court) to perpetuate the endless cycle of litigation created by supply pressures caused by drug companies acting at the behest of death penalty opponents.”
But, in the end, he said, defendants won’t be able to cite any legal precedent against the use of the drug. Midazolam has been used in 15 executions in five states in four federal court circuits, he said.
Here are detailed descriptions of the defendants and their cases, according to the state:
Johnson was convicted by a Shelby County jury in 1985, more than thirty years ago, for the first-degree murder of his wife, Connie Johnson.
Stephen Michael West:
West was convicted by a Union County jury in 1987, more than thirty years ago, for the first-degree premeditated murders of Vanda Romines and her daughter, Sheila Romines, aggravated kidnapping of both victims, and aggravated rape of Sheila Romines.
He was sentenced to death for each of the murders and forty years in prison for each of the rape and kidnapping convictions.
Zagorski was convicted by a Robertson County jury in 1984, more than thirty years ago, for the first-degree murders of John Dotson and Jimmy Porter.
He was sentenced to death for each of the murders.
Abdur'Rahman was convicted by a Davidson County jury in 1987, more than thirty years ago, for the first-degree murder of Patrick Daniels and sentenced to death.
He was also convicted of assault with intent to commit murder of Norma Norman and armed robbery, receiving consecutive life sentences for those convictions.
Charles Walton Wright:
Wright was convicted by a Davidson County jury in 1985, more than thirty years ago, of the first-degree murders of Gerald Mitchell and Douglas Alexander.
He was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Mitchell and death for the murder of Alexander.
Hall was convicted by a Hamilton County jury in 1992 for the first-degree murder of Traci Croziq and for aggravated arson. He received consecutive sentences of death for the murder and 25 years in prison for arson.
Nicholas Todd Sutton:
Sutton was convicted by a Morgan County jury in 1986, more than thirty years ago, of the first-degree murder of Carl Estep for which he was sentenced to death.
David Earl Miller:
Miller was convicted by a Knox County jury in 1982, more than thirty-five years ago, of the first-degree murder of Lee Standifer for which he was sentenced to death.