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VOL. 46 | NO. 10 | Friday, March 11, 2022

Nashville DA: Intellectual disability should prevent inmate execution

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NASHVILLE (AP) — Nashville's lead prosecutor says he agrees with defense attorneys that a death row inmate is intellectually disabled and should not face execution.

District Attorney Glenn Funk made the assessment in a filing this week that determines Byron Black should instead face a sentence of life in prison. The inmate's attorneys are arguing the 65-year-old should be spared under a 2021 law that made Tennessee's prohibition against executing people with intellectual disability retroactive. Previously, Tennessee had no mechanism for an inmate to reopen a case to press an intellectual disability claim.

Black is currently scheduled to be executed on Aug. 18. A judge would need to approve any agreement to remove the death sentence.

The district attorney's filing says there is a different standard in place now than in 2004, when the court found that Black didn't meet the now-obsolete definition of "mental retardation."

Psychologist Susan Redmond Vaught, who was one of the state's experts in the 2004 determination, has now concluded that Black meets the new law's criteria for a diagnosis of intellectual disability. Another expert made the determination as well.

"In light of the 2021 changes" to state law, "as well as newly available documentation, changes in the standards of care, and changes in diagnostic criteria — Dr. Vaught has recently reconsidered her opinion on the question of Petitioner's intellectual disability," the district attorney wrote.

Black was convicted in Davidson County of murdering his girlfriend Angela Clay, 29, and her daughters Latoya, 9, and Lakesha, 6, at their home in April 1988. Prosecutors said he was in a jealous rage when he shot the three. At the time of the killings, Black was on work release while serving time for shooting and wounding Clay's estranged husband.

The district attorney wrote that he met with the victims' family, explained the new law and discussed the reports by experts, but those family members told him they still want Black to be executed.

Black would be the second inmate to have a death sentence tossed due to intellectual disability under the new state law.

Pervis Payne, 54, successfully showed the court in Shelby County that he was intellectually disabled. He was resentenced in January and will be eligible for parole in about five years.

Tennessee has five executions scheduled for 2022, including Black's. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the state has not put any inmates to death since February 2020, when Nicholas Sutton died in the electric chair. Black's execution had been set for October 2020, but the pandemic saw it rescheduled twice.

During the pandemic pause, another inmate was removed from death row.

Abu-Ali Abdur'Rahman, 71, was resentenced in November after a judge found his trial had been tainted by racism during jury selection. He was resentenced to three consecutive life sentences.

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