Attorneys For Tennessee Death Row Inmate Seek Stay Of Execution Due To Coronavirus Pandemic: 'It Would Be Irresponsible'

Attorneys for a death row inmate have asked the Tennessee Supreme Court to delay his execution due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Oscar Franklin Smith, 70, is due to be executed on June 4 after he was convicted of the 1989 slayings of his estranged wife Judy Lynn Smith and her two sons, Chad and Jason Burnett.

In a motion filed on Wednesday, Smith's attorney urged the court to delay Smith's execution by six months, citing the severe disruptions to daily life during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Kelley Henry, supervisory assistant federal public defender in Nashville, argued that the disruptions due to the pandemic are "negatively impacting" Smith's ability to prepare his case for clemency.

Smith has always maintained his innocence, but his defense team cannot carry out the kind of work required to prepare his case during these "unprecedented times," Henry wrote in the motion.

Oscar Smith
Oscar Smith is set to be executed in Tennessee on June 4, 2020. Tennessee Department of Corrections

The Federal Public Defender's Office has directed staff to work remotely and severely limit their travel. But a clemency effort typically consumes hundreds of hours of staff time, requires extensive travel to meet with witnesses and in-person interviews, the motion states.

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

"Mr. Smith's team cannot conduct the work necessary to fullfil their obligation to him without putting themselves and others at risk.There is a tension between counsels' obligation to Mr. Smith and to their own personal safety and that of their families and coworkers."

Although Riverbend, where Smith is housed, has canceled visitation, legal visits are still permitted. But Henry wrote that those are "not advisable" for staff as they could "inadvertently" introduce the virus into the institution.

"With the stroke of a pen, this Court has the authority to stay the execution for six months to permit the virus outbreak to run its course and allow for Mr. Smith's legal team to conduct its crucial work in representing him," Henry added.

Newsweek contacted Tennessee Governor Bill Lee's office for comment.

The motion comes after the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals halted John Hummel's execution which had been scheduled for this week due to the pandemic.

Hummel's lawyer argued that the coronavirus outbreak has affected his ability to carry out last-minute investigations, the Texas Tribune reported. He also noted that crowding relatives, reporters and prison officials into small viewing rooms posed a risk of spreading the virus.

This graphic, provided by Statista, shows the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 around the world as of March 19.

Statista
This graphic shows the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 around the world as of March 19. Statista

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