- Associated Press - Monday, March 31, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Many inmates awaiting execution on Tennessee’s death row never make it to the execution chamber.

Since 2000, nine death row inmates have died of natural causes and one committed suicide, The Tennessean (https://tnne.ws/1rYmkIk) reported. Six have been executed.

In November, inmate Paul Dennis Reid died of heart disease in a hospital while awaiting execution for a 1997 killing spree.

“It wasn’t supposed to happen this way,” said Connie Black, whose daughter, Michelle Mace, was one of seven people Reid killed during three fast-food restaurant shootings. “He just died a normal death like everyone else.”

The newspaper reports that the state spent nearly $600,000 on Reid’s prison housing and medical costs since 1999, when he landed on death row.

Death penalty supporters say the costs show that the criminal justice system takes too long and allows too appeals. Opponents say the costs prove that the death penalty is a waste of money and that life sentences would save taxpayers millions.

“If there weren’t so many, I believe frivolous suits to delay the death penalty, it wouldn’t cost so much,” Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said. “We’ve had people on death row since 1986, 1982. We really don’t have a death penalty, to be honest.”

But opponents of execution say innocent people have been put on death row across the nation, only to later be exonerated because of the appeals process.

“If you just give up the appeals and deny counsel, the number of innocent that you put to death will rise,” said Assistant Federal Public Defender Kelley Henry, who has worked on Reid’s case and represents many death row inmates.

Ramsey said he feels for the families who have gone through a “literal hell” only to see a murderer die in prison. He said cases such as Reid’s make him hopeful that the state’s recent push to restart the death penalty will be successful.

Henry said life without parole serves the same purpose as the death penalty.

“You can still protect society. Life without parole is a horrible punishment,” she said. “Life without parole is not only less expensive, but more effective.”

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Information from: The Tennessean, https://www.tennessean.com

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