NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — A bill adding a firing squad as a means of execution for death row inmates in Tennessee passed the House Criminal Justice Committee Tuesday and is now heading to the Finance, Ways, and Means Committee.
“When they commit these heinous crimes, I’m talking about like first-degree murder, they give up their right to life,” said bill sponsor Rep. Dennis Powers (R-Jacksboro).
If passed, this bill would allow death row inmates to choose dying by a firing squad rather than lethal injection or electrocution; however, while supportive of the bill, Rep. Paul Sherrell (R-Sparta) suggested an addition.
“Could I put an amendment on that that would include hanging on a tree, also?” he asked.
While Powers says the firing squad would be the most humane option for inmates, those who work closely with people on death row disagree.
“It’s really poorly written,” federal public defender Kelley Henry said about the bill. “And essentially what it means is our clients would be subject to involuntary execution by electrocution unless they choose firing squad.”
Last April, Henry’s client, Oscar Smith, said he would prefer a firing squad to electrocution or lethal injection. Henry described it as the best of horrible options and compared electrocution to being burned to death and lethal injection to suffocating.
“That was what he was going for, ‘I’m going to be executed. You are going to kill me,’ so, that is the method he would prefer. That is one person in one specific set of events,” Henry said about her client.
Smith’s execution in 2022 was halted when it was discovered lethal injection protocols weren’t followed. That revelation led to an independent investigation and a scathing report of the Tennessee Department of Correction’s actions.
“To me, it’s troubling to think that this Department of Correction is engaging in any form of execution,” Henry said.
TDOC responded to questions about the viability of a firing squad last year and said it would be difficult to implement.
“TDOC does not know where it would begin to address firing squad safety measures and contingencies,” the department wrote. “Death by firing squad would not significantly reduce the risk of severe pain.”
The bill sponsor told his colleagues TDOC is, “not philosophically opposed to this bill.”
Currently, four states allow death row inmates to die by firing squad.