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Tennessee Supreme Court Upholds Death Penalty

August 6, 1991

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ Tennessee’s Supreme Court narrowly upheld the state’s death penalty Monday, saying electrocution isn’t cruel and unusual punishment.

The 3-2 ruling came in a case involving a man convicted of killing a woman and her two daughters.

Lawyers for the defendant, Byron Lewis Black of Nashville, had appealed his death sentence for one of the killings, arguing that electrocution violates the state constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

The U.S. Supreme Court let states restore the death penalty in 1976, saying it doesn’t violate the federal Constitution’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.

Tennessee’s chief justice, Lyle Reid, argued in a dissent Monday that the nation’s high court has never reviewed evidence of the physical pain inflicted by electrocution to determine whether it’s unnecessarily cruel.

Black was convicted of killing Angela Clay, 29, and her daughters, Latoya, 9, and Lakeisha, 6, in 1988. He was sentenced to die for killing the 6-year- old and received two life sentences for the other killings.

At the time of the killings, Black was on weekend furlough from a workhouse where he was serving 2 years for shooting and wounding Bennie Clay, the estranged husband of Angela Clay and the father of the girls. Black was Clay’s boyfriend.

″This brutal and senseless murder places the defendant Black into the class of defendants deserving capital punishment and is not disproportionate to sentences imposed in similar cases,″ Justice Frank Drowota wrote for the majority. Drowota was joined by Justices Charles O’Brien and Riley Anderson.

Justice Martha Craig Daughtrey joined Reid’s dissent, which upheld the guilty verdict but said the case should be sent back to the lower court for a new sentence. The dissenters said the evidence was insufficient to support two of six circumstances needed for the death penalty.

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