This week, the highest court in the state did something it hasn't done in nearly two years — schedule death row inmates for execution. The court stopped scheduling them as the COVID-19 pandemic spread; in addition to the execution chamber, state executions involve small witness rooms, with chairs set up shoulder to shoulder in three rows of five.
"The viewing room is quite small, often there are a number of witnesses, there's media, there's family from the defendant and victim's family," said Amy Harwell in the Federal Public Defender's office.
The two scheduled executions — Oscar Smith in April of next year, and Harold Nichols in June — highlight once again the controversy over the drugs Tennessee uses to put people to death.
Attorneys say the first drug, Midazolam, doesn't knock inmates out entirely before the state sends through a drug meant to stop the inmate's heart, all while unable to move because of the second drug designed to paralyze the inmate.
"It's really a horrifying thing to contemplate, to be essentially gagged and muted by a chemical process that makes it impossible for someone to signal distress, to move, or even blink," Harwell said.
Because of that possibility, most inmates have chosen the electric chair as their execution method in recent years — a choice the two inmates will also be given next year.