Tennessee executioner barred from testifying for now

AP News
Posted: Jul 15, 2015 7:30 PM

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee's executioner will not testify in a trial challenging the constitutionality of lethal injection, at least for the time being.

The state Court of Appeals issued the order Wednesday afternoon in response to an emergency request filed earlier in the day by Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery. In his motion, Slatery echoed an earlier ruling by the state's Supreme Court that the executioner's testimony is irrelevant because the case challenges the written lethal injection protocols, not how they are carried out by a specific person. Slatery also said there could be "irreparable harm" if the executioner's identity becomes known, despite efforts to conceal it.

The case is being heard in Davidson County Chancery Court, where Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman on Tuesday ordered the executioner to testify by telephone with his or her voice disguised.

The plaintiffs in the case are 33 death row inmates. Their attorneys are trying to show that lethal injection is likely to cause extreme pain and suffering. They also claim it will subject their clients to a lingering death.

The Court of Appeals gave the inmates' attorneys until July 29 to file a response stating why the state's executioner should testify.

The case has been repeatedly sidetracked over legal disputes that have gone to the state Supreme Court twice already.

In one, the high court overruled Bonnyman's decision to let the inmates' attorneys know the identities of the execution team, ruling that the identities were not relevant to the case, for the same reasons Slatery mentioned in his emergency motion to block the executioner's testimony. Slatery also asked the Court of Appeals to stop the inmates' attorneys from visiting the execution chamber for similar reasons.

The Appeals Court's order put that visit on hold, at least temporarily.

Because of the repeated delays in the case, the Chancery Court is under orders from the Tennessee Supreme Court to expedite the lethal injection trial, with the presentation of evidence to be concluded by Aug. 7. Bonnyman and the attorneys briefly discussed the Appeals Court's order on Wednesday and how it will affect that schedule.

"I think we might need to think about it overnight," Bonnyman said.