Tennessee inmate’s execution put on hold due to COVID-19

UniqueThis 23 December 3, 2020

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Supreme Court on Thursday indefinitely postponed the execution of death row inmate Byron Black.

In a brief order issued on Thursday, the court wrote that Black's execution is stayed pending a further order by the court “because of the multiple issues caused by the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.”

Black was convicted by a Nashville court of murdering his girlfriend Angela Clay and her daughters Latoya, 9, and Lakesha, 6, at their home in 1988. Prosecutors said he shot the three during a jealous rage. Black was on work release at the time for shooting and wounding Clay’s estranged husband.

Black was originally scheduled for execution on Oct. 8, and the court had previously ordered a postponement until April 8, 2021.

Black’s lead attorney, Kelley Henry, filed the petition for a second delay last month after contracting COVID-19 during a visit to a federal prisoner she is representing in Texas. Henry argued that her illness, combined with logistical problems caused by the virus, would make it difficult to prepare for a January hearing on whether Black is mentally competent to be executed. The virus also complicates Black’s attorneys’ efforts to prepare his clemency petition, Henry argued.

State Attorney General Herbert Slatery opposed the request for delay as premature. In a court filing on Nov. 20, attorneys for the state argued that the average time for recovery from the virus is between two and six weeks.

“It would be reasonable to anticipate that the virus would have time to run its course well before Black’s competency petition can be filed or his hearing takes place,” the state argued.

Gov. Bill Lee last month granted a a reprieve from execution to Pervis Payne from Dec. 3 until April 9 “due to the challenges and disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.” Lee granted another reprieve in July to Harold Nichols, and the Tennessee Supreme Court issued an earlier reprieve to Oscar Smith.

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