Tennessee Supreme Court delays 2nd execution due to pandemic
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Supreme Court on Friday issued a stay of execution for a second death row inmate because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Byron Black’s execution was scheduled for Oct. 8, but the court moved it to April 8, 2021.
Attorneys for the 64-year-old Black had said the pandemic made it impossible to have a hearing on whether Black is competent to be executed. They also wrote that the health crisis is interfering with his ability to prepare for a clemency request.
The court also extended until January Black’s deadline for a petition alleging incompetence. The previous deadline was next month.
“The stay will help protect guards, witnesses, attorneys representing the prisoners, attorneys for the State, and everyone else involved in these cases,” said Kelley Henry, supervisory assistant federal public defender.
Henry said Black has mental defects and medical issues.
“For the court to evaluate Mr. Black’s competency, it would need to hear from mental health experts who are out of state and can’t travel to Tennessee to examine Mr. Black in the prison at this time,” Henry said. “The stay in Mr. Black’s case was absolutely necessary.”
Tennessee’s attorney general opposed Black’s motion to delay his execution. Attorney General Herbert Slatery wrote in Supreme Court filings that attorneys for Black and another inmate who sought a stay, Harold Nichols, were speculating about future public health conditions in their delay requests.
Black was convicted by a Nashville court of murdering his girlfriend Angela Clay and her daughters Latoya, 9, and Lakesha, 6, at their home in 1988. Prosecutors said he shot the three during a jealous rage. Black was on work release at the time for shooting and wounding Clay’s estranged husband.
The state Supreme Court previously delayed inmate Oscar Smith’s execution from June to February 2021 because of the pandemic.
Last week, the court denied, without explanation, Nichols’ request for a stay. Another execution remains scheduled this year, that of Pervis Payne on Dec. 3.
Since Tennessee resumed executions in August 2018 — at a pace topped only by Texas — five of seven inmates have chosen the electric chair. The last was Nicholas Sutton, executed on Feb. 20 for the 1985 murder of a fellow inmate.
Inmates’ attorneys have argued that both lethal injection and electrocution are forms of punishment that violate the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.