NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Two days before a Chattanooga man's scheduled execution, Tennessee's Supreme Court has denied a request for more time to consider the possible bias of a juror who helped hand down the original death sentence decades ago.
The state's top justices ruled Tuesday that 53-year-old Lee Hall had exhausted his previous opportunities to appeal his case and the high court was not persuaded to create a "new, previously unrecognized procedure based on the facts of this case."
"While the Court has previously created procedures to fill otherwise procedural voids ... due process makes no such demand in this case," the court ruled. "Mr. Hall is unlikely to convince the appellate courts to otherwise grant relief on this issue."
Hall is scheduled to die Thursday in the electric chair. It's a method selected by three out of the five past death row inmates put to death since Tennessee started resuming executions in August 2018.
Hall's attorneys contend that their client was deprived of his constitutional rights because the juror — simply known as "Juror A"— acknowledged she had failed to disclose during jury selection nearly 26 years ago that she had been raped and abused by her ex-husband.
This omission, Hall's attorneys argue, deprived the 53-year-old Hall of a fair and impartial jury — a right protected in both the Tennessee and U.S. constitutions.
However, earlier this month, a Tennessee judge ruled that Hall failed to prove the juror was prejudiced against him.
Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Don Poole determined that while the testimony about Hall's actions may have reminded the juror about the abuse by her former husband, the judge wrote that the juror said any "hatred" she had toward Hall was "fleeting and did not affect her going forward."
The Supreme Court agreed with Poole, ruling that "the juror did not attempt to deceive the court or counsel and that any nondisclosure was unintentional."
Justice Sharon Lee submitted the lone dissenting opinion.
"Finality is well and good, but should not trump fairness and justice," Lee wrote. "The state should not electrocute Mr. Hall before giving him the opportunity for meaningful appellate review of the important constitutional issues asserted in his filings."
Hall, formerly known as Leroy Hall Jr., has been on death row ever since being convicted for the 1991 killing of his estranged girlfriend Traci Crozier. Hall set Crozier's car on fire while she was still inside by filling a container with gasoline, stuffing a paper towel over the top, lighting it on fire and then throwing it into the car.
The container exploded and Crozier received burns to more than 90% of her body. She died the next day in the hospital.
Hall's attorneys have also asked Gov. Bill Lee to delay his execution and give more time to explore the legal questions surrounding "Juror A," as well as submitted a separate request to the Tennessee Supreme Court to delay the execution.
Neither the governor or the court have responded to those requests.
Statement from Lee Hall's legal team
Today the Tennessee Supreme Court held that the state can execute Lee Hall on Thursday, denying him the right to present evidence of unconstitutional jury bias to an appellate court that recently overturned a conviction on the same grounds.
This ruling is a rush to the electric chair. As a result of the Court's haste, Tennessee may soon become the second state in modern history to execute a blind man.
In her dissent, Justice Lee found that the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals was likely to overturn Mr. Hall's conviction based on the evidence of a serious constitutional violation in his trial. But the Supreme Court's ruling today means that the Court of Criminal Appeals will never have the opportunity to consider this evidence.
Just eight days ago, Justice Lee noted, the Court of Criminal Appeals overturned a conviction in a strikingly similar case involving undisclosed jury bias—just as it did on at least two prior occasions.
"Finality is well and good, but should not trump fairness and justice," Justice Lee wrote. "The State should not electrocute Mr. Hall before giving him the opportunity for meaningful appellate review of the important constitutional issues asserted in his filings."
Now that the state courts have slammed the courthouse doors, we hope the federal courts will address what Justice Lee described as Mr. Hall's "compelling constitutional claims."