Tennessee's Republican governor temporarily called off what would have been the state’s first execution since the start of the coronavirus pandemic citing an "oversight" in the state’s lethal injection preparation.
Gov. Bill Lee didn’t elaborate on what exactly forced the surprise 11th-hour stop to the planned execution of 72-year-old Oscar Smith. But Amy Harwell, an attorney with the federal public defender’s office representing Smith, said her office received a notice that the issue dealt with "mishandling" of the drugs — though no further specifics were provided to her office.
Smith had been scheduled to receive a three-drug injection only a short while later at a Nashville maximum security prison.
"Due to an oversight in preparation for lethal injection, the scheduled execution of Oscar Smith will not move forward tonight. I am granting a temporary reprieve while we address Tennessee Department of Correction protocol," Lee said in a statement promising further details once available.
Smith was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1989 murder of his estranged wife and her two teenage sons. Shortly before the governor intervened, the U.S. Supreme Court had denied a last-hour bid by Smith’s attorneys for a stay.
Smith has maintained that he is innocent, denying any role in the murder of his family.
Kelley Henry, an attorney with the federal public defender’s office, called for an independent entity to investigate why the execution had to be postponed, saying no execution should happen until questions are answered.
Henry said the governor did the "right thing" by stopping the execution which would "certainly have been torturous to Mr. Smith."
Just before learning of his reprieve, Smith had received communion from his spiritual adviser and had also been served his last meal which included a double cheeseburger and apple pie hours earlier.
Associated Press contributed to this report