Attorneys for a Chattanooga man on death row have asked Gov. Bill Lee to delay his execution next week in order for the courts to examine a "structural constitutional violation in his trial."
Lee Hall, who has changed his name from Leroy Hall Jr., was convicted in the April 1991 burning death of his ex-girlfriend, Traci Crozier. The 53-year-old is set to be executed on Dec. 5 and has requested to die by electrocution. Tennessee's primary method of execution is lethal injection.
His defense has embarked in a last-minute legal battle after they discovered information that they say indicates a juror was biased at his trial.
Last month, Hall's defense filed three different petitions that essentially would accomplish the same thing — stop or delay the execution — if they weren't dismissed. The motions ask for a new trial based on claims of constitutional violations after a juror — identified only as "Juror A" — recently disclosed she'd had a history with domestic violence, including rape, prior to Hall's trial.
Hall previously tried to appeal his conviction in 1998. His defense team tried to track down jurors for interviews at that time, but they couldn't reach Juror A because she lived out of state.
Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston has vehemently opposed the petitions, noting that the arguments are untimely and don't meet the standards set by state laws or precedents set by previous court rulings, and Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Don Poole dismissed two of the petitions for those reasons.
The third petition was allowed to move forward, and a hearing was held on Nov. 14, during which Hall's defense presented several witnesses, including Juror A.
She explained she didn't disclose her history with domestic violence because she didn't think of herself as a victim at the time due to societal views on date rape and marital rape. She's only recently come to terms with her victimization while undergoing grief counseling after the death of her second husband in 2007.
Because of her past experiences, Hall's defense has called Juror A's service on the jury "the greatest magnitude of constitutional violation — a structural error," which should require that Hall's conviction be overturned and he be granted a new trial.
But on Nov. 19, Poole dismissed Hall's petition, noting Tennessee law limits a petitioner to only one request for post-conviction relief.
Poole added that only the Tennessee Supreme Court can decide whether due process requires a court to hear the case on its merits.
Hall's defense plans to challenge all three dismissals, which is why they have asked Lee to issue a temporary suspension of Hall's execution.
"The Tennessee and federal courts need sufficient time to process Lee Hall's case," the attorneys wrote in the request. "Mr. Hall has worked diligently to present these issues to the courts. However, assembling and filing the record, filing briefs in three different appeals, and ensuring meaningful review in the courts is impossible in the current time frame."
"Please allow the courts time to consider these important constitutional questions," Hall's defense asked.
Laine Arnold, Lee's press secretary, confirmed the governor's office has received the request and is reviewing it.
District Attorney Pinkston's office declined to comment, noting the case is still pending as it is being appealed and could go before the Court of Criminal Appeals.