GOP Bill to ‘Fast Track’ Death Penalty Convictions Moves to Finance Committee

A bill to “fast track” death penalty convictions will be considered on March 6 in a Tennessee House subcommittee.

House Bill 0258, sponsored by Rep. Mary Littleton, R-Dickson, District 78, passed the House Judiciary Committee on Feb. 27. The legislation would remove an appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeals in death penalty cases, which is allowed under current law.

During the meeting, Rep. Bo Mitchell, D-Nashville, District 50, voiced concerns about removing the appeal because there are examples of persons being wrongfully convicted and exonerated because of new evidence.

“There’s always another case coming down the pike and (this bill) puts a lot in the hands of a district attorney who knows, if he seeks the death penalty now, someone could be fast tracked,” Mitchell said. “And you don’t get any do overs… I’d hate it if we executed someone who didn’t commit a crime.”

In addition to her argument that lost witnesses and disappearing evidence were adequate reasons to speed up death penalty cases, Littleton said she had confidence the convicted were all guilty as charged.

“In the past, every death penalty that’s come before in Tennessee, I go back and I look and there’s not a doubt in my mind that these people have committed the crime,” Littleton said. “And that way, I feel very good about the death penalty.”

54% of death penalty convictions vacated or reversed since ’77
A 2016 analysis published by The Tennessean found:

Of 2,095 first-degree murder cases in Tennessee identified since 1977, only 193 resulted in death sentences. Of those 193, 104 — or 54 percent — have been vacated or reversed. Forty-five of those were reversed because of ineffective lawyers.

The Tennessean, October 2016

McKinney served 31 years on a wrongful conviction
Lawrence McKinney served 31 years of 100 year sentence in Tennessee prison before DNA evidence exonerated him. He was released from prison in 2009.

Next step
The bill is scheduled to be heard next by the House Finance, Ways, and Means Subcommittee on March 6.

How they voted:
House Judiciary Committee, Feb. 28, Voice Vote – Ayes Prevail:
Rep. Martin Daniel, R-Knoxville, District 18
Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, District 29
Rep. Michael Curcio, R-Dickson, District 69
Rep. Johnny Garrett, R-Goodlettsville, District 45
Rep. Clay Doggett, R-Pulaski, District 70
Rep. Rick Eldridge, R-Morristown, District 10
Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, District 11
Rep. Andrew Farmer, R-Sevierville, District 17
Rep. Bruce Griffey, R-Paris, District 75
Rep. Dan Howell, R-Cleveland, District 22
Rep. Bud Hulsey, R-Kingsport, District 2
Rep. Curtis Johnson, R-Clarksville, District 68
Rep. William Lamberth, R-Portland, District 44
Rep. Mary Littleton, R-Dickson, District 78
Rep. Brandon Ogles, R-Franklin, District 61
Rep. Iris Rudder, R-Winchester, District 39
Rep. Bill Sanderson, R-Kenton, District 77
Rep. Paul Sherrell, R-Sparta, District 43
Rep. James “Micah” Van Huss, R-Gray, District 6
Rep. Jason Potts, D-Nashville, District 59
Rep. Karen Camper, D-Memphis, District 87

Requested to be recorded voting No:
Rep. Bill Beck, D-Nashville, District 51
Rep. Joe Towns, Jr., D-Memphis, District 84
Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, District 98