Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced on Monday that he will pause executions through the end of the year to conduct a review of the state's lethal injection procedures.
An independent review, led by former U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton, will look into questions surrounding the state's testing of lethal injection chemicals and the adherence to the lethal injection process after an "oversight" forced the state to call off the execution of Oscar Smith last month.
"I review each death penalty case and believe it is an appropriate punishment for heinous crimes,” Lee said in a statement. “However, the death penalty is an extremely serious matter, and I expect the Tennessee Department of Correction to leave no question that procedures are correctly followed.”
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Though the "oversight in preparation" ahead of Smith's execution by lethal injection was not disclosed at the time, Smith's attorney suspected that at least two of the three execution drugs were compounded instead of commercially manufactured.
One of the circumstances that the independent review will look into is what led to the testing of the lethal injection chemicals' potency and sterility but not endotoxins ahead of Smith's scheduled execution on April 21.
"The use of compounded drugs in the context of lethal injection is fraught with risk," federal public defender Kelley Henry said, according to the Associated Press. "The failure to test for endotoxins is a violation of the protocol."
Smith's attorneys had previously called on the governor to issue a moratorium on executions while an independent investigation began. Henry applauded the Republican governor's efforts on Monday, saying that it shows "great leadership."
"Governor Lee did the right thing by stopping executions because of this breach," Henry said.
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In addition to Smith, four other executions scheduled for this year will be rescheduled by the Tennessee Supreme Court as the review is conducted.
Tennessee currently uses a three-drug series to put inmates to death by lethal injection. Three out of the four executions that have taken place in the state since 2019 have been carried out by the electric chair. Death row inmates can request the electric chair instead of the default method of lethal injection.