Attorneys seek to reopen case of Tennessee death row prisoner

April 5 (UPI) -- Attorneys for a Tennessee death row prisoner have filed a motion seeking to reopen his case weeks ahead of his scheduled execution.

Oscar Smith, 72, was sentenced to death for the 1989 murders of his estranged wife, Judy Robird Smith, and her two sons from a previous relationship, Chad Burnett, 16, and Jason Burnett. His execution has been set for April 21, the first to be carried out by Tennessee since before the COVID-19 pandemic.


In a motion filed Monday in the Davidson County criminal court, Smith's lawyers said new touch DNA evidence discovered on the murder weapon warrants a reconsideration of the case. The DNA doesn't belong to Smith, indicating another, unknown killer, the court documents indicate.

In Smith's original trial, expert testimony indicated there was "no doubt" a palm print found on the awl belonged to Smith. Defense attorneys said the fact that the DNA evidence points to another individual pokes holes in prosecutors' "most important piece of evidence."

"DNA evidence shows that an unknown assailant -- not Mr. Smith -- used the bloody murder weapon found at the crime scene to murder Mr. Smith's family," Smith's attorney, Amy D. Harwell, said. "New technology makes it possible to identify the unknown person's DNA. Mr. Smith has steadfastly maintained his innocence since his arrest in 1989 -- unable, until now, to scientifically prove that he was not the killer."


In a separate court filing last month, Smith challenged the state's three-drug protocol used in its lethal injections. Tennessee's protocol includes midazolam (a sedative), vecuronium bromide (a paralytic) and potassium chloride (which causes death), according to the non-partisan Death Penalty Information Center.

Critics of the death penalty have argued that midazolam, which is supposed to make executions painless, doesn't actually numb the pain. The drug, in combination with a paralytic, leaves prisoners unable to express pain, they say.

Smith's filing in March argued that the state's protocol violates state and federal constitutions. He's requested, instead, to be executed by firing squad.

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