A state lawmaker has apologized for suggesting Tennessee bring back lynching

State Rep. Paul Sherrell made the controversial comments Tuesday during a House Criminal Justice Committee discussion on HB1245, a bill proposed to implement death by electrocution.

A Tennessee lawmaker has apologized for what he claims was an “exaggeration” while trying to convey support for a colleague looking to add death by firing squad as an execution method for death row inmates.

State Rep. Paul Sherrell (R-Sparta) made the controversial lynching comments Tuesday during a House Criminal Justice Committee discussion on HB1245. Rep. Dennis Powers (R-Jacksboro) first proposed the bill — currently being amended to provide a different means of execution — to implement death by electrocution, according to WSMV News.

NewsChannel 5 reported that the amendment would allow firing squads to be added to the Tennessee death row protocol, revisions the state sought in response to an independent study that exposed shortcomings in how the Tennessee Department of Corrections has carried out lethal injections.

Tennessee State Rep. Paul Sherrell on death row inmates
Tennessee Republican state Rep. Paul Sherrell (above) has apologized for comments he made Tuesday during a House Criminal Justice Committee meeting. He suggested the return of lynchings as an execution method for death row inmates. (Photo: Screenshot/YouTube.com/NewsChannel 5 Now)

“I think it’s a very good idea,” Sherrell said of the firing squad method, WSMV News reported, “and I was just wondering, could I put an amendment on that, that would include hanging by a tree, also?” 

Gloria Sweet-Love, head of the Tennessee State Conference of the NAACP, deemed Sherrell’s comment “beyond disgusting.”

“He is celebrating a particular form of execution used against African Americans in Tennessee and across the nation,” Sweet-Love said, NewsChannel 5 Now reported, “including innocent and wrongfully convicted persons.”

Sweet-Love went into more detail, adding that lynchings occurred in nearly every county in many Southern states as an example of racialized and anti-Black brutality. 

“We know from numerous research studies that Blacks are also disproportionately executed,” she added, “especially when the alleged victim is White.”

In a statement issued on his behalf Wednesday by the press secretary for the House Republican caucus, Sherrell apologized for using what he called “very poor judgment” in endorsing his colleague’s measure.

He asserted his motive was to support families who frequently wait decades for justice.

“My exaggerated comments were intended to convey my belief that for the cruelest and most heinous crimes, a just society requires the death penalty in kind,” the statement read, NewsChannel 5 reported. Sherrell stated that execution cannot restore a victim’s family, but “a lesser punishment undermines the value we place on protecting life.”

​​Sherrell’s remark received no immediate response from other lawmakers in Tuesday’s committee meeting; they continued questioning Powers, who claimed he polled death row inmates and discovered they favored the firing squad over other execution methods. Some Democratic legislators opposed Powers’ proposal, contending the firing squad was an unusual and cruel method of punishment. But the measure is now heading to the Finance Committee, WSMV reported.

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