Tennessee Lawmaker Issues Apology for Proposing 'Hanging by Tree' as Execution Option

Paul Sherrell made the suggestion while discussing an amendment to death penalty laws, going on to apologize to "anyone who may have been hurt or offended."

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A Republican Tennessee legislator faced backlash this week after he proposed to revive lynching-style hangings.

Rep. Paul Sherrell (R-Sparta) made the proposal Tuesday during a Criminal Justice Committee meeting that addressed HB 1245—a bill that would allow death row inmates to be killed by firing squad. While expressing his support for the bill, Sherrell suggested an amended version that would include another execution option.

“I think it’s a very good idea, and I was just wondering if I could put an amendment on that would include hanging by a tree also?” he said, as reported by The Tennessean.

Sherrell’s proposal received immediate pushback, with many critics pointing to the horrific history of hangings and lynchings in Tennessee.

“He is celebrating a particular form of execution used against African Americans in Tennessee and across the nation, including innocent and wrongfully convicted persons,” Gloria Sweet-Love, president of the Tennessee State Conference of the NAACP, told News Channel 5. “In many parts of the South, lynchings took place in nearly every county as it exemplified racialized and anti-Black violence. We know from numerous research studies that Blacks are also disproportionately executed, especially when the alleged victim is white.”

She continued, “It is a sad day in Tennessee politics when a lawmaker publicly announces that he wants to resurrect the lynching tree. We demand an apology from Representative Sherrill and ask the House leadership to condemn statements advocating racialized violence.”

Sherrell has since apologized in a statement released through the House Republican caucus press secretary.

“I regret that I used very poor judgment in voicing my support of a colleague’s bill in the Criminal Justice Committee on Tuesday,” he said. “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. Although a victim’s family cannot be restored when an execution is carried out, a lesser punishment undermines the value we place on protecting life. My intention was to express my support of families who often wait decades for justice. I sincerely apologize to anyone who may have been hurt or offended.”

According to the state’s Department of Correction, hanging was the primary method of execution until 1913. Lethal injections are now the preferred option; however, lawmakers are trying to implement other methods due to reported failures of TDOC’s lethal injection protocols.

There are now 46 death row inmates in Tennessee, 45 of whom are men. 

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