Last Updated on May 21, 2022 by Fair Punishment Team
There are many different types of punishment that are enacted across history and across many countries. Some, such as the death penalty, have endured for centuries in one form or another.
Whilst many Western nations no longer have the death penalty, many states in the United States do.
If you live in one of those states that does have the death penalty you might be curious about its history.
Similarly, if you are unaware of whether or not your state has the death penalty or not it is important to find out, not just for yourself but also for your family.
Therefore, if you have ever wondered whether the great state of Tennessee has the death penalty or not you need no longer wonder – this article will tell you all you need to know.
Does Tennessee Have The Death Penalty?
The death penalty in Tennessee is given in certain circumstances – one or many of the following aggravating factors must usually be proven in order to have the death sentence passed on an individual convicted of first-degree murder:
- The convicted individual committed the murder against a person under the age of 12.
- The convicted individual has prior felony convictions that involve violence against an individual or individuals.
- The convicted individual created a great risk of death for two or more people other than the victim or victims during the crime – this aggravating factor is usually associated with robberies.
- The convicted individual committed the murder in a particularly gruesome manner, such as torturing the individual or inflicting more injuries than were necessary to cause death
- The convicted individual murdered the individual in order to prevent prosecution – this is usually associated with organised crime.
- The convicted individual committed the murder either for renumeration or for the promise of renumeration or they instructed another person to commit the crime for money – again this factor is seen to be associated with organized criminals.
- The convicted induvial committed the murder in order to escape from conviction for another serious crime such as rape.
- The convicted individual committed the murder whilst in police custody or after having escaped from police custody.
- The convicted individual killed a police officer, emergency services officer, prison officer or some other professional state worker and knew that they were in the middle of doing their active duty.
- The convicted individual committed the crime against any former or present judge, district attorney, state attorney or other such legal officer and the convicted individual killed them specifically because of their previous or current occupation.
- The convicted individual murdered an elected national, state or local representative and the convicted individual knew that they were an elected person and murdered them because of their views and or actions.
- The convicted individual committed what, in Tennessee law, can be defined as mass murder i.e. the murder of three or more individuals which can either be committed during a particular single period or over an extended period which is designated as forty eight months.
- The convicted individual deliberately mutilated the individual after death.
- The convicted individual committed the murder against a victim who was seventy years or older or had severe mental or physical disabilities.
- The convicted individual committed the action whilst performing an action of terrorism.
- The convicted individual committed the murder against a pregnant woman and the convicted individual knew that the woman was pregnant when they committed the murder.
These various circumstances are usually in place when an individual is sentenced to the death penalty in Tennessee.
Now that we’ve explained the circumstances in which someone in Tennessee can be executed, let’s take a look at the history of the death penalty in the state.
The History Of The Death Penalty In Tennessee
Now that we’ve explained the stare of the death penalty in Tennessee today, let’s explore the history of capital punishment in the state in order to understand why it is felt to still be relevant to the modern residents of the state.
During the so called Progressive era of the 1890s to the 1920s, Tennessee was the only former Confederate state to abolish the death penalty.
However, this changed in 1915 when a new bill was enacted which brought executions back to the state. This would bring in a period of executions in the state that would last until the 1960s.
Alongside this new desire to continue with executions was a new method – the electric chair. Prior to that most convicted individuals had been executed by hanging.
Now they would die at the hands of the power of electricity with the first to be sentenced and executed being Julius Morgan.
Unlike today, where someone has to commit murder to be executed, Morgan was in fact sentenced for the rape of a white woman.
Morgan, an African American from Arkansas had been working on a local farm when the attack had happened – we would today describe it as sexual assault rather than rape.
Morgan was sent to the chair and after two tries was pronounced dead.
One particularly infamous case that saw the defendant executed was the execution of another African American, Maurice Mays who had been accused and sentenced for the murder of a white woman named Bertie Lindsey.
The incident caused what has later become known as the Knoxville Race Riots of 1919 in which a lynch mob was sent to find and kill Mays before his trial.
The extent to which Mays was in fact simply set up is hard to determine – the illegitimate son of Knoxville’s Mayor, Mays’ relationships with both white and black women had infuriated the local police and Mays’ arrest was likely motivated by the color of his skin rather than his actual guilt.
Executions in the state stopped between 1960 and 2000 with a brief period during the mid 60s in which the death penalty was abolished.
By the time it returned in 2000 with the execution of Robert Glen Coe the method of execution was the lethal injection. Coe had been convicted in 1979 of the rape and murder of an eight-year-old child Cary Ann Medlin.
Since then, there have been few executions in the state and the electric chair has been used on some inmates though the lethal injection is seen as the preferred method of execution.
Why Knowing About The Death Penalty In Tennessee Is Important
The death penalty is a complex and often divisive form of punishment, particularly in states like Tennessee when executions were sometimes seemed to be determined more by the color of the prisoner’s skin than by anything else.
Yet the death penalty and the price someone should pay for committing a horrific crime are complex subjects that require delicacy and thought.
Only by discussing and learning about the death penalty can we ensure that the people of the United States can come to a firm and final decision on one of the most complex issues of the past few decades.