Tennessee Nears Execution of Blind Convict, a Rarity

As inmates age on death row, an expert says, health problems increase
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 2, 2019 6:15 PM CST
Blind Convict Nears Execution, Only the Second Since 1976
Lee Hall is scheduled to be executed Thursday.   (Tennessee Department of Correction via AP)

The execution of a blind man in Tennessee this week would mark only the second time in recent decades that a person without vision has been put to death in the US, the death row inmate's lawyers say. Lee Hall, 53, is scheduled to be electrocuted Thursday in a state that has accelerated the pace of its executions over the past year, the AP reports. Hall had his sight when he entered death row nearly three decades ago, but attorneys for the condemned prisoner say he’s since become functionally blind due to improperly treated glaucoma. Hall's attorneys say only one other blind prisoner has been executed since the death penalty was reinstated by the US Supreme Court in 1976. They've asked the governor for a reprieve to allow more time to consider questions about the possible bias of a juror who helped deliver the original death sentence.

His case illustrates a trend: The longer inmates wait to die, the more medical ailments they are likely to have by the time they enter the execution chamber. Death row is "an environment that is extremely, physically and mentally debilitating," said Robert Dunham of the Death Penalty Information Center. The stress of living under a death penalty "has both physical and psychological consequences," he said. Hall has been on death row since he was convicted in the 1991 killing of his estranged girlfriend, Traci Crozier. The US Supreme Court has neither set an upper age limit for executions nor created an exception for a physical infirmity. The court has, however, said the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment means that people who are insane, delusional or psychotic cannot be executed. Yet that definition of “insane” is narrowly defined and as a result, most people with severe mental illness are often excluded.

(More death row stories.)

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