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Tennessee inmate seeks June execution stay amid virus spread

Associated Press • Mar 19, 2020 at 1:37 PM

NASHVILLE — A Tennessee death row inmate is seeking a stay of his execution in June due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In a Tennessee Supreme Court filing Wednesday, attorneys for Oscar Smith wrote that the court can stay the execution for six months to let the outbreak run its course and let Smith’s legal team conduct crucial work representing him.

The filing says it would be irresponsible and against the public interest for attorneys to conduct the necessary interviews, travel, meetings with Smith and other tasks as they pursue clemency and court challenges.

“There is a tension between counsels’ obligation to Mr. Smith and to their own personal safety and that of their families and coworkers,” Smith’s attorneys wrote.

Three other Tennessee executions are scheduled after Smith’s date this year.

Five of the seven inmates executed since August 2018 have chosen to die in the state’s electric chair rather than by lethal injection, with several indicating they thought electrocution would be quicker and less painful.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.

Smith was convicted of murder in the 1989 triple slayings of his estranged wife, Judy Lynn Smith, and her two sons from a previous marriage, Chad and Jason Burnett, in Nashville. He was sentenced to death for all three killings.

The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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