A Four-State Update on the Death Penalty

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Wednesday was a busy day for American capital punishment. Here’s the latest in three states:

  • A Tennessee county judge upheld the constitutionality of the state’s lethal-injection protocol. The Volunteer State uses a single-drug method with the sedative pentobarbital obtained from compounding pharmacies, which have drawn scrutiny from defense lawyers for using allegedly substandard ingredients. Executions won’t immediately resume: A state-supreme-court ruling earlier this year imposed a moratorium pending appeals.
  • Meanwhile, in Mississippi, a federal district court judge ordered a temporary halt to all executions in that state. Inmates there are challenging the state’s three-drug protocol, which they argue is less stringent than similar, SCOTUS-sanctioned methods in other states. (BuzzFeed has the judge’s full written order.)
  • In Nebraska, pro-death-penalty groups turned in over 166,000 signatures to put the legislature’s May repeal on the 2016 ballot. The repeal will be temporarily suspended until then if at least 115,000 of those signatures are valid.

Wednesday also almost saw the scheduled execution of Bernardo Tercero in Texas. A Harris County jury sentenced Tercero to death for murdering a high school teacher in 1997, but the state’s highest court of criminal appeals issued a stay Tuesday after a key prosecution witness recanted her original testimony.