- Associated Press - Thursday, December 18, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - The Tennessee Supreme Court on Thursday questioned why the attorneys for 10 death row inmates would need to know the names of the people who carry out Tennessee’s executions.

The inmates are challenging the constitutionality of Tennessee’s execution procedures, but the case has been on hold for months while the parties argue over whether the state is required to release the names.

In court, Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Smith argued that the names of the people who carry out the execution protocols are irrelevant to the question of whether the protocols are constitutional.

Justice Sharon Lee asked, “Don’t they have a right to determine whether the people carrying out executions are competent?”

Smith said inmates do not have a right to “supervise and oversee every detail of an execution.”



Even if the names were released only to the inmates’ attorneys, staff and experts, there is still a risk that they could become public and a potential for “extreme public backlash.” If a pharmacist who was publicly identified as providing execution drugs, it could destroy his career, Smith said.

Justices pressed plaintiff’s attorney Steve Kissinger on why the names of the individuals involved in executions were important to the inmates’ case.

The assistant federal defender from Knoxville seemed to struggle to find concrete examples, saying the names could be important for establishing proof in the case.

The Davidson County Chancery Court earlier this year found that the identities were relevant and ordered the state to turn over them over to the inmates’ attorneys. The state appealed, and it was upheld by the Tennessee Court of Appeals.

Once the Supreme Court decides the question, the larger case can continue to move forward in Chancery Court.

That case challenges the constitutionality of Tennessee’s new one-drug lethal injection protocol and a new law allowing prisoners to be electrocuted if Tennessee Department of Correction officials were unable to obtain the lethal injection drug. The new law made Tennessee the only state that allows use of the electric chair against an inmate’s will.

The changes were supposed to help jumpstart the state’s stalled execution process, but they opened the door to the new legal challenge. It is unlikely the state will execute anyone while the constitutional challenge to the execution protocols is pending. Three scheduled executions already have been postponed by the court.

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