Another execution has been postponed, due to COVID-19.
The Tennessee Supreme Court announced Friday that Byron Black will not be put to death this October. For now, his execution has been rescheduled for April 2021.
Black was sentenced to death in 1989 on three murder charges. But his defense team says he suffers from “mental defects,” including brain damage and schizophrenia. Federal defender Kelley Henry says she plans to ask the court for a competency hearing, to overturn his execution altogether. She says such a hearing couldn’t happen while protections to prevent the spread of the virus are still in place, since they would have to bring in mental health experts from out of state.
“The stay in Mr. Black’s case was absolutely necessary,” Henry says.
Multiple death row inmates have asked the state to pause executions during the pandemic. Their attorneys argue that social distancing measures have made it difficult for them to meet with their clients and build their clemency cases. Black’s lawyer says delaying executions will also help protect prison guards, inmates and witnesses who have to visit the prison for an execution.
Several weeks ago, the Tennessee Supreme Court postponed the execution of another man on death row scheduled to die in June. But it denied a similar request for an execution set for this August.
Outside visitors have been barred from state prisons since mid-March. Many correctional facilities have emerged as coronavirus hotspots since then. More than 3,000 Tennessee inmates have tested positive for the virus since the start of the pandemic.