Death penalty: Experts, prayer to guide Haslam

Death penalty: Experts, prayer to guide Haslam

April 24th, 2014 by Andy Sher in Local Regional News

Bill Haslam

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NASHVILLE - Gov. Bill Haslam says he intends to rely on a panel of experts plus some advice from above when deliberating the fates of 10 convicted murderers with scheduled execution dates in the next two years.

The Republican governor's comments came during a discussion Wednesday at the Q Ideas conference, a gathering of church leaders from across the country. The moderator asked Haslam how he, as a "Christian man," would approach the "super difficult" decision for the state to carry out an execution.

"I can't honestly answer when it comes to 11 o'clock the night before exactly what that would feel like and look like," Haslam said in response to the question posed by Q founder Gabe Lyons.

The Christian group Q draws church leaders from across the country to events exploring issues shaping culture, faith and the church.

Now in his fourth year as governor, Haslam has yet to be confronted with a death row inmate who has exhausted all appeals and has only the hope of executive clemency to stop his execution.

The governor noted his role comes at the end of the legal process.

As governor, Haslam said, he has "a certain responsibility in that, and so I'm already pulling together a team of everything from mental health providers to law enforcement folks to district attorneys who can help us as each case comes up and look through that.

"I feel like my responsibility is to literally dive into each individual situation, talk to as many smart people about that situation as I can, pray about it and make a decision at that point in time," Haslam added. "Again, it hasn't happened yet but there are quite a few coming."

The state changed its drug protocol for lethal injections and plans to execute 10 inmates over the next two years, officials said earlier this year. An 11th condemned murderer who had been scheduled to die this week recently was granted post-conviction relief.

During his 2010 campaign for governor, Haslam said in a debate that "if a jury of peers convicts someone with the death penalty, I support that."

Haslam was joined onstage at the Q Ideas event by Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, a Democrat who was elected in a nonpartisan election, for the segment dubbed "Red States, Blue Cities."

Other topics included the role of churches in public life and where Republican Haslam and Democrat Dean have found common ground.

The governor noted that while Republican and Democratic "textbook" answers on what drives income inequality nationwide differ, he believes he and Dean agree that what "is crucial to solving that is the issue of public education."

Haslam said one side argues public education can't be fixed until poverty is addressed.

His own position, he said, is that "you're not going to fix poverty until you fix public education."

He added, "Mayor Dean has stuck his neck out on a number of occasions on issues around reform."

Dean has "taken some hits from his party on some issues," Haslam said, alluding to Democrats' criticism of the mayor over his support of public charter schools.

"I've taken some hits from my party on some issues," said Haslam, whose support of school vouchers has been lukewarm in comparison to that of many GOP state senators.

Dean returned the compliment, saying Haslam has "put together a wonderful Department of Education."

Minority Democrats in the Legislature -- as well as some Republicans -- have been increasingly critical of state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman.

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550.