Attorneys Seek to Delay Execution of Second Death Row Inmate in Tennessee Due to Coronavirus Pandemic

Attorneys are seeking to delay a second Tennessee death row inmate's execution due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Byron Lewis Black, 64, is scheduled to be put to death on October 4 after being convicted in the 1988 slaying of his girlfriend Angela Clay and her daughters—Lakeisha, six, and Latoya, nine.

But his attorneys filed a motion on Wednesday requesting that the Tennessee Supreme Court reschedule the execution.

Earlier this month, the court delayed the execution of Oscar Franklin Smith, a 70-year-old who is housed at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution with Black, from June to February 2021. Texas, meanwhile, has already delayed six executions due to the outbreak.

Byron Black
Byron Lewis Black. Tennessee Department of Corrections

Black's attorney, Kelley Henry, supervisory assistant federal public defender in Nashville, wrote in the filing that Black has brain damage and an IQ of 67 and is therefore not competent to be executed.

Henry, who also represents Smith, wrote that the pandemic has made it impossible for attorneys to prepare for a competency hearing or for that hearing to take place in August as planned.

The experts that would need to examine Black cannot travel to Tennessee at this time, the motion argues, and an MRI scan of his brain cannot be performed as facilities are reserving equipment for COVID-19 patients and other emergencies.

Riverbend Maximum Security Institution. Tennessee Department of Corrections

"Mr. Black's counsel cannot responsibly or safely comply with this timeline given the nationwide outbreak of COVID-19 and its presence within Riverbend Maximum Security Institution," the motion said.

Henry also argued that the crisis is affecting the ability to prepare a clemency request for Black.

"A typical clemency effort consumes hundreds of hours of staff time, extensive travel to locate and develop witnesses who have relocated away from middle Tennessee, and face to face interviews. Many of those individuals are of an age as to put them at high risk for COVID-19," the motion says.

"It would be irresponsible and against the public's interest to conduct the necessary investigation during this pandemic."

Additionally, Henry argues that holding an execution during a pandemic is risky as the chances of spreading the virus inside the prison are "enormous."

She said a delay would "benefit the prison" as an execution taking place during a pandemic "presents needless additional risk" to staff and inmates.

According to the Tennessee Department of Corrections, only two inmates out of almost 800 have been tested for COVID-19 at Riverbend. One has tested positive.

The state has two other executions scheduled this year—Harold Wayne Nichols on August 4 and Pervis Payne on December 3.

This infographic, provided by Statista, shows the number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. as of April 30.

Spread of COVID-19 across the U.S.
Spread of COVID-19 across the U.S. Statista

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