The state of Tennessee has executed only six people since 1960. Yet, if Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper’s office gets its way, they will soon execute nearly twice as many people in fairly rapid succession. Cooper’s office asked the state supreme court to set execution dates for 10 death row inmates, while an eleventh is already scheduled for April 22.
Cooper’s office claims that the rush of execution requests stems from the fact that it was previously “unable to procure all of the drugs required under the old [execution] protocol,” and this resulted in a backlog. Many prominent drug companies have refused to allow their products to be used in executions, the European Union banned export of drugs to be used to kill inmates, and a U.S. company that used to provide a common execution drug stopped making it. In 2011, Tennessee ran out of sodium thiopental, which its previous execution protocols required. It’s since amended those protocols to use a different drug.
Nevertheless, it’s not at all clear why a two year quest to obtain execution drugs lead to a backlog so large that it dwarfs the total number of Tennessee executions over the last half-century. As Brian Haas reports, there is another, more political explanation for the state’s actions. Last month, a Tennessee death row inmate died of natural causes, potentially inspiring the state’s leadership to push for faster executions to prevent that from happening again.