As the public moves away from its support of the death penalty, we ask that you reconsider the state’s decision to resume executions in 2014. In 2007, a group of Tennessee death penalty experts conducted an assessment of the state’s death penalty for the American Bar Association. Of 93 guidelines for the administration and application of a fair and accurate death penalty system, Tennessee fully complies with only seven. The Tennessee General Assembly then created a committee to further examine the problems. The committee made several recommendations on which no action has been taken.
Tennessee’s death penalty system is failing. It has consistently proven to be ineffective, unfair, and inaccurate. To date, 144 people have been freed from death rows across the country when evidence of their innocence emerged—three in Tennessee. The more we execute, the more likely it is that we will execute an innocent person, if we have not already. When a human life is at stake, there is simply no room for error.
We also are concerned that the death penalty fails murder victims’ family members. We believe in policies that serve the needs of these families in the aftermath of a homicide and that promote healing. Yet there is growing evidence that the death penalty may do the opposite; it can prolong victims’ pain and delay healing while appeals and reversals force families to relive their trauma again and again.
We find it troubling that the state has moved to make confidential the source of the drugs used for executions. Government transparency is critical when lives are on the line. If we are to resume executions in this state, the public must have access to information about the source of the drugs that are employed.
Finally, we write to voice our unease about the way our state’s death penalty diverts funds from other needs. With the pursuit of capital cases costing millions more than the available alternatives and in light of the serious economic challenges that face our state, the valuable resources that are expended to carry out death sentences would be better spent investing in programs that work to prevent crime, such as improving education, providing services to those with mental illness and intellectual disability, and more resources for law enforcement. We should make sure that money is spent to improve life, not take it.
For these reasons, we ask you, Governor Haslam, to halt all executions in order for the Tennessee legislature to review the findings of the Tennessee Committee to Study the Administration of the Death Penalty and to act on its recommendations.