Tennessee death row attorneys argue firing squads may be more reliable for executions

APTOPIX Utah Firing Squad
Posted at 10:17 PM, Apr 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-26 11:52:42-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Should Tennessee use a firing squad to execute death row inmates?

It's a question some are asking as Gov. Bill Lee's office still has not released details about what went wrong before death row inmate Oscar Franklin Smith's scheduled lethal injection last week.

Some states like South Carolina and Utah have adopted a firing squad as an execution option — as it's become harder to get the drugs needed for lethal injections.

It's something that even death penalty attorneys in Tennessee have brought up as an option the state could consider, rather than what they say is a riskier lethal injection.

"The risk of pain and suffering is high [with a lethal injection], whereas with a firing squad, it's pretty straightforward," said death penalty attorney Kelley Henry.

Previous lawsuits have referenced a 1959 U.S. War Department handbook on how a firing squad could be carried out in Tennessee.

Under the section "execution by musketry," it says a prisoner, with their wrists bound, a hood covering their head, and a target over their heart, would face a firing squad of eight loaded rifles, with at least one but no more than three loaded with blanks.

The prisoner would then hear the command: Ready, aim, fire. If that doesn’t kill the inmate, the handbook says to administer the "coup de grace" — a point-blank pistol shot to the head.

Don't get Henry wrong: she says most anyone in her position would have a negative view of the entire death penalty.

"They would see the death penalty is a failed government program, and that our money could be spent in much better ways that would protect public safety," Henry said.

But between a lethal injection and firing squad, some attorneys argue a firing squad could be a more reliable option.