By Lawrence Buser - June 20, 2006
Tennessee has scheduled five executions June 28, an event that, if carried out, would signal a remarkable determination to enforce capital punishment in the state.
Although legal observers predict that most, if not all, will be stayed because of appeals, the Tennessee Department of Correction is preparing for what could be a busy, stressful night.
The death watch area, where prisoners are moved three days before their scheduled execution, has four cells where prisoners are closely monitored. Executions typically are scheduled for 1 a.m., but logistics would require these to go late into the morning.
"We are able to handle all five executions should they occur," said prison system spokesman Dorinda Carter. "They would be scheduled two or three hours apart so that we could move families in and out, but we don't anticipate all five happening on June 28 because several of the inmates have a number of appeals they can pursue."
The justices of the Tennessee Supreme Court, who set execution dates for the state, will convene in Nashville on that date to make themselves available for last-minute appeals by attorneys for the condemned men.
"They take the process very, very seriously," said Sue Allison, spokesman for the Administrative Office of the Courts.
Three of those scheduled to die by lethal injection are from Shelby County, including Sedley Alley, Charles Rice and David Ivy. The other two are Paul Dennis Reid of Nashville and William Glenn Rogers from Clarksville.
Texas, which leads the nation in executions, has executed two inmates in one night at least three times in the past 10 years.
Arkansas, however, has twice executed three inmates on a single day since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976.
On Aug. 3, 1994, Hoyt Franklin Clines, 37, James William Holmes, 37, and Darryl V. Richley, 40, all of Rogers, Ark., were executed by lethal injection for the 1981 robbery and slaying of Bentonville general contractor Don Lehman.
Three years later, on Jan. 8, 1997, Arkansas again held a triple execution in the state's Cummins Unit near Pine Bluff. Earl Van Denton, 47, and Paul Ruiz, 49, were put to death for the 1977 killing of Corps of Engineers park ranger Opal James of Havana and Magazine town marshal Marvin Richie. Less than an hour later, Kirt Wainwright, 30, was executed for the murder of Prescott convenience store clerk Barbara Smith in 1988.
Arkansas carried out double executions in 1994 and 1999. State officials have said multiple executions are less costly and more efficient.
Tennessee, which has carried out one execution in the past 45 years, had multiple executions more than a half dozen times before 1940, including the deaths by electrocution of four Anderson County men on March 1, 1922.
Of the five inmates now set, the least likely to be executed on June 28 are Rice, Ivy and Rogers, who all have state and federal appeals available to them.
Alley, who came within eight hours of execution last month, and Reid are much farther along in the appellate process and have fewer options remaining.
Alley is seeking permission for DNA testing and also is challenging the constitutionality of lethal injection. Reid has shown little interest in fighting his execution, although appeals are being pursued in his behalf.
"It's very slim that they all will happen," said federal public defender Kelley Henry of Nashville. "I don't know that Tennessee has ever done more than one. Certainly, that would be disturbing, to say the least."
The record for single-day executions is believed to be the eight men convicted of rape who were electrocuted on Feb. 2, 1951, in Martinsville City, Va.
-- Lawrence Buser: 529-2385