Friday, December 6, 2019

Tennessee executes legally blind inmate by electric chair for 1991 killing

The 21st Execution of 2019
Tennessee executed death row inmate Lee Hall in the electric chair on December 5, 2019, marking the fourth time the state has used the method since 2018, reported The Tennessian.
Hall, 53, was pronounced dead at 7:26 p.m. CST, according to the Tennessee Department of Correction. Media witnesses described what appeared to be a faint trail of white smoke rising from Hall's headeach time the lethal current coursed through his body.
One witness described seeing what appeared to be a drop of blood on Hall's white shirt as the second current was applied. 
Hall, also known as Leroy Hall Jr., was sentenced to death for killing his ex-girlfriend Traci Crozier in 1991. He was found guilty of first-degree murder and aggravated arson by a Hamilton County jury in 1992.
Hall was the 138th person put to death in Tennessee since 1916, and the sixth inmate executed since the state resumed capital punishment in August 2018. Hall also is believed to be only the second legally blind death row inmate executed since the U.S. reinstated the death penalty in 1976.
Tennessee was originally set to execute Hall in April 1998, and again in 2016. Legal delays blocked those dates, but the courts and Gov. Bill Lee refused to intervene this time.
Executions have become a grim routine in Tennessee since the state resumed them in 2018.
Much of Hall's execution matched others that preceded his, according to the six media witnesses. But the smoke they described was unusual. Federal public defender Kelley Henry said it was evidence of torture.
Henry represents many death row inmates and has witnessed an electrocution in Tennessee. She said the smoke could be a sign that the execution team did not douse Hall with enough saline solution, which is used to conduct electricity, or that the sponge strapped to his head had melted.
Department of Correction spokesperson Dorinda Carter, who witnessed Hall's execution, said the vapor was "a small amount of steam, not smoke, which is a natural function of the combination of solution and heat.
In an emailed statement, Carter said the execution "went as designed without any complications."
Tennessee has used the electric chair to execute four death row inmates, including Hall, since 2018. None of the witnesses at the other three executions reported seeing smoke or steam.
Before he died, Hall struck a conciliatory tone with his last words.
"I think people can learn forgiveness and love and make the world a better place. That's all I have to say," Hall said. 
After the execution, Crozier's sister Staci Wooten said 28 years of pain had ended for her family.
“Our family’s peace can begin, but another family’s hell has to begin,” she said, reading
Hall released his own statement apologizing to Crozier's family. His attorney John Spragens shared it after the execution.
“I’m sorry for the pain I caused," Hall's statement read. “I ask for your forgiveness, and I hope and pray that someday you can find it in your heart to forgive me."
Hall also apologized to his family, including his brother David who attended the execution.
"I hope this brings peace," Hall's statement read. "I don't want them to worry about me anymore."
A month ago, David Hall sat in a Chattanooga courtroom while his brother's attorneys spun out the late plea for a new trial, hoping to delay the execution to allow the case to be heard.
On Thursday, David Hall sat stoic in the front row of the viewing room, holding a tissue as his brother said his last words and was put to death. 
rn his conviction and block the execution, saying a juror in his 1992 trial was unfairly biased against him.
Defense attorneys in new filings requested to vacate the original conviction on Oct. 14, just a month and a half before Hall's execution. 
An unnamed female juror from Hall's original trial said her own history of violent rape and abuse at the hands of her first husband prejudiced her against Hall. She had not described her history of abuse during jury selection — it came to light for the first time in September.
Attorneys requested Hall's original case be reopened as part of a post-conviction relief appeal, which could have delayed the execution.
Courts rejected that argument. The U.S. Supreme Court issued a two-sentence order Thursday night declining to step in.
In a statement Wednesday, the governor said the case had been fully and fairly litigated for nearly 30 years.
“The judgment and sentence stand based on these rulings, and I will not intervene in this case," Lee said Wednesday afternoon.
Hall's death part of a trend in Tennessee, but not the nation
Tennessee is an outlier in the nation, carrying out executions at a steady clip since 2018 despite the fact that most states have backed away from the practice.
Hall's choice to die by electrocution is another sign that Tennessee is bucking a national trend — no other state has used the electric chair since 2013.
Hall was one of dozens of inmates who challenged the state's controversial lethal injection method in court, saying it caused unconstitutional torture.
Hall is now the fourth inmate to choose the electric chair over lethal injection, which is the state's default execution method.
Lethal injections take several minutes. Electrocutions are quick by comparison.
Inmates are strapped into the chair with crisscrossing belts. Their arms are bound to the chair, and their legs are wrapped in sponges and shackled.
The execution team douses the inmate in water and places a sponge, helmet and shroud over their head. 
The chair delivers two cycles of electric jolts — 20 seconds of 1,750 volts, a 15-second gap and then 15 more seconds of electricity.
The horror of Hall's crime has remained prominent as state and federal courts weighed the latest wave of legal questions. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals described Crozier's death in visceral detail in an order Wednesday. 
Hall, then 24, and Crozier, 22, had lived together for five years before she moved in with her aunt the month before her death.
On the night of April 16, 1991, Hall threw a "jug full of gasoline that Hall lit with a paper-towel fuse" into her car, the court's order read. She suffered burns over 95% of her body and died hours later.
Emergency room doctors at Erlanger Hospital in Chattanooga said she had the worst injuries they'd ever seen.
Hall initially denied involvement in the fatal fire but then told police that he intended only to destroy the car, not to kill Crozier. His family reiterated that account in a statement released after the execution.
Hall later told police he made the homemade gas bomb as protection from her uncle but threw it at Crozier after she laughed at him and refused to reconcile their relationship. Hall also left threatening messages for Crozier ahead of the murder.
Wooten, Crozier's sister, told reporters that Hall was often abusive to Crozier and the rest of their family after the pair met in high school.
To Wooten, the only way justice could come for her sister was with the death sentence carried out. 
"He's nothing to me," Wooten said in a recent interview. "I just want him dead, and then I'll be a happy person."
Traci Crozier's father, Gene Crozier, said in a recent interview his daughter got along with everyone.
"She was just a free spirit," he said. "She never missed a day of class."
Every day since her death, Traci Crozier's family has mourned her loss. They have hoped the execution would provide relief from overwhelming grief.
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