Tennessee court reschedules executions postponed by pandemic

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Supreme Court on Wednesday set two execution dates for 2022, a move that comes after executions in the state were put on hold due to the pandemic.

Oscar Smith had been sentenced to die on June 4, 2020, for the murders of his estranged wife, Judy Lynn Smith, and her two sons from a previous marriage, Chad and Jason Burnett, in Nashville. The state high court initially set a new execution date in February of this year before issuing an indefinite stay due to the pandemic. On Wednesday, the court set a new date of April 21, 2022.

An attorney for Smith, in a news release, criticized the court for setting a new execution date while litigation that Smith filed challenging the reliability of the fingerprint evidence in his case is still pending.

“The fingerprint examiner has been shown to have made multiple errors about print identification in this case, including failing to identify his own fingerprint,” said Amy D. Harwell, a federal public defender in the Nashville office.

Also on Wednesday, the court set an execution date of June 9, 2022, for Harold Nichols, who was convicted of rape and murder in the 1988 death of 21-year-old Karen Pulley in Hamilton County. Nichols had been scheduled to die in August of last year before Gov. Bill Lee issued a stay, which expired on Dec. 31.

Two other inmates have had executions postponed due to the pandemic — Byron Black and Pervis Payne. The court has not issued new execution dates in those two cases.