COVID-19 leads to temporary reprieve for death row inmate

Special Reports

Tennessee's Death Row Delayed

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — A Nashville man sentenced to execution for the brutal murder of his wife and her teenage sons has dodged his death sentence temporarily due to COVID-19. 

On October 1st, 1989 Metro Police were called to a home on Lutie Street. “It’s something you are never prepared for,” said Mickey Miller, who is a former MNPD homicide detective. 

The initial call was for a 911 hang up call. A tape of the call to officers gives insight into what occurred. “A female white subject called in and she said ‘help me’ and the phone was cut off,” said the unnamed dispatcher. 

Officers went to the Woodbine home, looked inside, and all was silent. It wasn’t until the next day when the real nightmare came to light.

“It was horrific,” said Miller. Officers found Chad Burnett, 16, in the kitchen floor. Then, Judy Smith, 35, on her bed. The youngest victim, Jason, was only 13-years-old. ” It was a bloody mess,” recalled Miller.

 The details of the case are disturbing. “I know he [Jason] had been cut across the stomach, and I think he was stabbed in the neck. Maybe one other place,” Miller described. 

Detectives found multiple weapons were used in the murders. A .22 caliber gun, a knife, and an awl, which is an ice pick like tool used in leather making.

Initially, investigators believed multiple suspects were involved in the killings because one suspect would not have had several weapons, according to Miller. “We were told by the husband, when we did get a hold of him, that she had been involved in some drug activity. We were able to prove that none of that was true.”

Instead, investigators discovered a crack in the case that led them to the killer – a 911 call and a handprint. 

On July 26th, 1990, Judy’s estranged husband, Oscar Franklin Smith, was found guilty of murder and sentenced to the death penalty.

“Oscar had lost these two fingers in a machine accident,” Miller demonstrated. “So, the first thing we see on there was this hand print missing these two fingers from that knuckle up. So that was pretty significant.”

 “He showed no emotion in the trial. Not anything.” Miller said. “When you look in his eyes, it was like there was nothing or nobody there.”

Smith was scheduled to be executed this past summer on June 4th. But, that execution was delayed until next year. According to the AP, Smith’s attorneys have argued that performing an execution during a pandemic puts witnesses at risk of transmitting coronavirus to staff and prison inmates.

However, Miller said, “When they kill two innocent children, it’s just horrific. He needs to pay.”

Despite a death sentence, Smith still maintains his innocence. 

See more of News 2’s in-depth coverage of “Death Row Delayed”

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