In Sunday’s Tennessean, Clay Carey reports on the possiblity of Tennessee executing four people in the next year. If this were to happen, it would mark the first time that the state has executed that many inmates in a single year in more than fifty years.
Though much attention is currently focused on the case of Gaile Owens, whose execution date in set for September 28, 2010, the state of Tennessee is seeking to set execution dates for at least two other inmates in 2010.
The Tennessee Attorney General has requested an execution date be set for Stephen West, convicted and sentenced to death for the murders of Wanda Romines and her daughter, Shelia, in Union County in 1986. West was also found guilty of two counts of aggravated kidnapping and one count each of aggravated rape and larceny. West’s defense team argued that he was present when the murders occurred but that a 17 year old co-worker–a classmate of Shelia’s–actually committed the crimes. West came within hours of execution in 2001 when he refused to file federal appeals but later changed his mind and signed the papers requesting a stay.
The Attorney General has also requested an execution date be set for Billy Irick, convicted of the 1985 rape and murder of a 7-year-old Knoxville girl he had been baby-sitting. Irick’s attorneys have asked the Tennessee Supreme Court not to set an execution date because of Irick’s long-standing mental illness, an illness whose symptoms were evident prior to the murder, rendering him incompetent to be executed. Irick has been granted an extension to respond to the state’s request that he be executed.
TADP will provide more information on these cases on our website in the next weeks. Please check under the “Cases” heading to learn more.
The state of Tennessee did not resume executions until the year 2000 after 40 years with not a single execution. Now, as the death penalty is losing favor nationally with two states having abolished it in 2007 and 2009 and others making strides towards abolition, Tennessee is moving toward more executions.
With our state budget stretched to the limit and with all the well-known problems concerning fairness and accuracy in the application and administration of the death penalty, isn’t it time that we as a state shift our priorities from seeking executions for those who are already incarcerated and who will remain incarcerated to spending our resources and energy on effective measures that actually prevent violent crime like mental health care, drug treatment, education, and additional resources for law enforcement?
How can we justify slashing funding for preventative programs, particularly for at-risk children and youth, and then spend untold millions to execute those same children and youth–now adults–once they commit a violent crime? It is time to focus not on being on “tough” on crime but on being “smart” on crime. All of us need to act to tell our lawmakers that executing these individuals no matter how heinous their actions, does not make us any one safer nor does it serve us as a state.
Retiring U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens spoke at a judicial conference on Wednesday about his changed view on the constitutionality of death penalty. Stevens said that modern pressures on the judicial system have increased the chance that a defendant could be wrongly sentenced to death.
Two years ago concerning the lethal injection case from Kentucky, Baze v. Rees, Stevens stated, “the death penalty represents the pointless and needless extinction of life with only marginal contributions” to society.
In his comments on Wednesday, Stevens highlighted the use of DNA testing that has demonstrated that there is a greater risk of sentencing an innocent person to death than anyone was previously aware.
In Tennessee, two men, Paul Gregory House and Michael McCormick, spent at least 20 years each fighting the wrongful convictions that sent them to death row. Both men had DNA evidence in their cases that finally led to their release.
Read the full article here.
Now that an execution date has been set for Gaile, various news outlets are reporting on this important case. One article in the Nashville Scene provides an indepth report on her case, and another article from the Scene gives us insight into the life of Gaile over the past 25 years. Two days ago, the front page of the Tennessean focused on Gaile, and even USA Today is writing on this case.
Gaile will be the first woman in Tennessee to be executed since 1820. Governor Bredesen could still commute her sentence. To read recent articles, see links below.
Nashville Scene, Jury Never Heard Whole Story
Nashville Scene, Life Behind Bars
Tennessean, Juror Fight Owens’ Execution
USA Today, Tennessee Woman on Death Row Seeks Reprieve