A blind prisoner convicted of killing his estranged girlfriend by setting her on fire in her car was on Thursday put to death in Tennessee’s electric chair, becoming only the second inmate without sight to be executed in the U.S since the reinstatement of the nation’s death penalty in 1976.
Lee Hall, who was previously known as Leroy Hall, chose to be executed by electrocution rather than lethal injection, a choice that Tennessee has offered to those condemned to death before 1999.
He was pronounced dead at 7:26 pm local time (01:26 GMT), according to a statement from the Tennessee Department of Correction.
Hall was already strapped into the electric chair when the curtains were raised for the witnesses — which included family, attorneys and reporters.
As his head swivelled around the room, not appearing to focus on anything, he was asked if he had any final words. Hall initially said he needed a glass of water before talking. He was denied and asked again to make a statement.
“People can learn forgiveness and love and will make this world a better place,” Hall said, wearing a white T-shirt and rolled-up white pants.
Hall received two jolts of electricity while in the chair. During the first 20-second burst, his right pinkie became hyperextended before it slumped, and his body collapsed. During both jolts, a small plume of white smoke appeared above the right side of his head.
A spokeswoman for Tennessee Department of Correction told the Associated Press that it “was steam and not smoke as a result of the liquid and heat.”
No media witnesses have reported seeing steam or smoke during the previous three electrocutions since the state began resuming executions in August 2018.
Hall had his vision when he entered death row decades ago, but his attorneys say he later became functionally blind from improperly treated glaucoma. Only one other known blind inmate has been executed in the U.S since the Supreme Court allowed executions to resume in 1976. Clarence Ray Allen, 76, died via lethal injection in 2006 in California.
Court documents state that Hall attacked Traci Crozier, 22, on April 16, 1991, by setting her car ablaze with a container of gasoline: stuffing a paper towel over the top, lighting it on fire and tossing it in her vehicle while she was inside. The container exploded, and Crozier suffered burns over more than 90% of her body, dying the next day in the hospital.
Crozier’s sister, Staci Wooten, and her father, Gene Crozier, watched Hall’s execution.
Hall’s lawyers argued last year that executing him would “offend humanity” because he is blind due to glaucoma.
But efforts to appeal the sentence were denied, and on Wednesday Tennessee Governor Bill Lee refused to grant Hall clemency.
“The justice system has extensively reviewed Lee Hall’s case over the course of almost 30 years, including additional review and rulings by the Tennessee Supreme Court yesterday and today,” Lee said in a statement. “The judgment and sentence stand based on these rulings, and I will not intervene in this case.”
Lawyers then filed a last-minute appeal with the US Supreme Court, which was also denied.
Hall’s lawyers have raised doubts about the jury that convicted him — one of the jurors hid that she had been a domestic violence victim, raising questions about potential biases.
Tennessee had suspended executions, which are in decline across the United States, in 2009 amid controversy around the drugs used in lethal injections.
But the southern state reinstated the practice in 2018 and has executed five inmates since, including three by electrocution.
Hall is the 21st person to be executed in the US in 2019.