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20th Apr 2022

Death row killer who claims he can prove his innocence set to die by lethal injection today

Steve Hopkins

Oscar Smith’s legal team argued that unknown DNA had been found on the murder weapon

A man convicted of killing his estranged wife and her sons in 1989 is set to be executed Thursday after a last-ditch request for clemency was rejected.

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee declined to intervene in the case of Oscar Smith’s on Tuesday, setting the 72-year-old inmate up to be the first person executed in the state since the covid pandemic began.

“After thorough consideration of Oscar Smith’s request for clemency and an extensive review of the case, the State of Tennessee’s sentence will stand, and I will not be intervening,” Lee said.

Smith, who is currently the oldest person on Tennessee’s death row, is to be killed by lethal injection at the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville Thursday for murdering Judith Smith, 35, and her two sons, Chad, 16, and 13-year-old Jason Burnett.

Last week the state’s Court of Criminal Appeals denied Smith’s motion to reopen his case and his motion to have a DNA analysis review of the case.

On 18 April, Smith’s legal team submitted a filing in the federal court claiming new evidence should be considered and that if a court did not hear the findings it would violate Smith’s First Amendment rights.

The team said the Serological Research Institute reported unknown DNA, which did not match Smith’s, on the murder weapon used in the case. It requested Smith’s execution be delayed until the evidence was tested.

The state supreme court denied to hear the appeal, which Smith’s attorney, Amy Harwell, said was an “insurmountable roadblock” to her client’s claims of innocence.

On Tuesday, she told CNN: “Mr. Smith has maintained his innocence for more than thirty years. New cutting-edge DNA evidence excluding Mr Smith as the contributor of DNA evidence on the murder weapon in this case proves his claim.

“The state has erected an insurmountable roadblock to Mr. Smith’s claims of innocence. The Governor’s denial of clemency under these circumstances is extremely disappointing.”

Smith, the oldest person on Tennessee’s death row, was sentenced in 1990 for the murders of his estranged wife, Judith Smith, and her two sons, Chad and Jason Burnett, in Nashville.

Smith was moved to death watch, a three-day period in which the person being executed is moved to a cell near the death chamber and put under 24-hour observation, on Monday, according to the Tennessee Department of Correction.

CNN noted that Tennessee has not performed an execution since February 2020 when Nicholas Sutton was put to death by electric chair.

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