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Tennessee death row inmate seeks stay citing COVID-19 disruption

April 29 (UPI) -- Attorneys for a man convicted of killing a woman and her two daughters asked the Tennessee Supreme Court on Wednesday to delay his October execution, citing disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Their motion said they've been unable to conduct the investigations required in the months leading up to the scheduled execution of Byron Black.

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"Mr. Black's counsel cannot properly prepare for his competency to be executed hearing required to take place during the middle of August. Nor can counsel prepare for clemency proceedings which must take place simultaneously," the motion read.

Black was convicted in 1988 for killing Angela Clay and her two daughters, Latoya and Lakeisha.

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The request comes two weeks after the Tennessee Supreme Court delayed the June execution of Oscar Smith on similar grounds. Texas has put off the executions of John Hummel, Tracy Beatty, Fabian Hernandez, Billy Wardlow and Carlos Trevino.

Assistant Federal Public Defender Kelley Henry represents both Tennessee men.

Beyond the delay, Black's lawyers are seeking to have his execution stayed based on grounds he's not competent for execution. They said he has brain damage and schizophrenia, and an IQ of 67.

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They said the experts needed to examine Black in order to hold a competency hearing can't travel to Tennessee because of COVID-19 mitigation efforts.

Death penalty experts warn the pandemic could disrupt U.S. executions for months to come.

Robert Dunham, director of the Washington, D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center, told UPI in March there's a lot of legal work that happens once a death row inmate is put on the calendar for execution. In some cases, witnesses don't come forward to provide evidence or testimony until there's a date.

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"It would be irresponsible and potentially deadly for the defense teams to be sending out investigators," he said.

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