Featured Image Credit: Tennessee Department of Corrections/Alamy
A legal team claims to have new DNA evidence that could prove the innocence of a convicted killer set to die by lethal injection tomorrow, 21 April.
Oscar Smith, 72, is currently the oldest person on Tennessee's death row after being sentenced in 1990 for the 1989 murders of his estranged wife, Judith Smith, and her two sons, Chad and Jason Burnett.
On Monday, 18 April, Smith's legal team submitted a filing in federal court claiming new evidence should be considered and that a court not hearing the findings 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. They claimed Smith had been 'shut out of state court', 'despite having evidence that proves that he is not the person who handled the murder weapon'.
The filing asked the court to delay the execution until the new evidence was heard, but Attorney General Herbert Slatery asked the judge to deny the temporary restraining order, arguing: "Plaintiff waited until late evening on April 18, 2022, only three days before his execution date, to file a motion for a temporary restraining order.
"The last-minute nature of this motion combined with the State’s interest in the timely enforcement of its sentence weigh heavily against granting a stay of execution," he continued, News Channel 5 reports.
Furthermore, the state claimed the new evidence did not necessarily mean Smith was innocent, saying: "Simply put, the presence of an unknown person’s DNA on the awl does not establish plaintiff’s innocence. This is not an extraordinary case where a constitutional violation has resulted in the conviction of an innocent person."
Two days ahead of Smith's scheduled execution date, Governor Bill Lee released a statement saying: "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."
Speaking to CNN following the decision, Smith's attorney Amy Harwell said: "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," Harwell added.
Smith's execution would mark the first Tennessee has carried out since the February 2020 execution of Nicholas Sutton.
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