TN inmates ask courts for execution instead of life sentences

Two inmates at Tennessee’s Turney Center prison, both serving life sentences for murder, are asking courts to be executed, writes columnist Frank Daniels. An excerpt:

Kenneth D. Thomas, who was convicted in the 1999 New Year’s Eve murder of Andrew Titus and sentenced to life without parole… has continually pleaded his innocence as he filed a number of appeals over the past 12 years. The Tennessee Supreme Court denied his last appeal, based on recanted trial testimony, on July 21.

His final petition, to the U.S. Supreme Court, again proclaims his innocence, but if the high court is unwilling to review his conviction, Thomas has asked the court to compel the state to give him a “death with dignity” by euthanasia.

Citing the Eighth Amendment, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted,” Thomas says he would rather die and donate his organs — preferably to his parents — than “suffer the indignities of being an innocent prisoner.”

While there is virtually no chance that the court will honor Thomas’ wishes, his petition has caught the attention of other inmates at the Turney Center Industrial Prison Complex in Only, including Steven D. Skinner.

Skinner said that he had filed a petition with the Hickman County Chancery Court to be euthanized instead of serving out his sentence. Skinner also was convicted of murder.

“I feel as (Thomas) does that euthanasia has to be an option for prisoners sentence (sic) to die behind bars as we are,” Skinner wrote in a letter. “Can you tell me, why should we continue to rot away in here just awaiting death?”

It is an interesting question these men pose.

In Belgium, which has allowed terminally ill adults and those dealing with unbearable pain to choose euthanasia since 2002, a convicted serial rapist and murderer, Frank Van Den Bleeken, successfully petitioned for euthanasia in 2014. The court granted his petition because of the “voluntary, considered and repeated” requests he had made to be euthanized.

His death was scheduled for Jan. 11, but the procedure was canceled Jan. 6 and he was transferred to a psychiatric prison ward.

Tennessee has no right-to-die statute, though the legislature has been studying a “death with dignity” bill filed on behalf of John Jay Hooker, who was diagnosed with terminal melanoma in January.

…At lunch Tuesday, I asked Hooker what he thought of the inmates’ requests.

“It seems to me,” said Hooker, who looked good and was in good spirits, “that our constitution would support their requests.”