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Capital punishment has existed in Tennessee off and on throughout its history, although the methods have changed.  Prior to 1913, the method of execution was hanging. Electrocution became the method of execution in 1916 after a two-year abolition of the death penalty from 1913-1915.  From 1916-1960, 125 persons were executed. From 1972 until 1978, there were no inmates sentenced to death in Tennessee because of the U.S. Supreme Court declaring it unconstitutional via the Furman decision. When the death penalty became legal in the state again in 1978, most of the inmates on death row from 1960 to 1978 had their sentenced commuted to life in prison.

In 1998, the state legislature added lethal injection to the methods of execution, giving those inmates committing their crimes before January 1,1999 the choice of electrocution or lethal injection. Legislation enacted in March 2000 specifies lethal injection as the primary method of execution for all those convicted after 1998. In 2007, Gov. Bredesen issued an executive order directing a review of the manner in which the death penalty was administered. All executions were put on hold. On April 30, the department delivered revised death penalty protocols to the governor. The moratorium was lifted the same year. On September 12, 2007 Daryl Keith Holton became the first person to be executed by electrocution since 1960. There have been 6 executions since 1976. 

For more information and ways to get involved, contact your state's organizations:

Tennessee Alliance for the Severe Mental Illness Exclusion (TASMIE)

The Tennessee Alliance for the Severe Mental Illness Exclusion (TASMIE) is a coalition of mental health advocates and other organizations that are educating Tennesseans about their concerns with sentencing those who have a severe mental illness to death.

Tennessee Catholic Public Policy Commission

The Tennessee Catholic Public Policy Commission (CPPC) was founded in 1983 as the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Tennessee. The CPPC serves in this capacity so that the Catholic Church’s position on public policy matters may be presented with one voice to the executive, legislative and judicial branches of state government.

Tennesseans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty

Tennesseans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (TADP) has over 5,000 supporters and chapters across the state including chapters in Memphis, Nashvill, and Knoxville.


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