A blind prisoner condemned of killing his estranged girlfriend by setting her on fire in her car was put to death Thursday in Tennessee’s electric chair. Lee Hall, 53, became only the second inmate without sight to be executed in the U.S. since the reinstatement of America’s death penalty in 1976.
Someone escorted Lee Hall to the electric chair Thursday when the state of Tennessee initiated plans to execute him for a murder committed nearly three decades ago. The 53-year-old man is functionally blind — the anticipated result, his attorneys assert, of the state Department of Correction’s years-long refusal to control glaucoma he developed behind bars.
Thursday evening, Hall became the second blind person put to death in the United States since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. Court documents state that Hall killed 22-year-old Traci Crozier on April 17, 1991 by setting her car ablaze with a container of gasoline that he lit and tossed in her vehicle while she was inside attempting to leave him. The container exploded and Crozier sustained burns over 90% of her body. She died the next day in the hospital.
With mere hours remaining before he would be strapped to the electric chair — an option offered to those convicted before 1999 — Hall spent Wednesday on death watch. His attorneys turned their attention and petitioned to the U.S. Supreme Court, pronouncing the state court’s ruling “a rush to the electric chair.” The US Supreme Court declined to stay Hall’s execution Thursday evening.
The case signifies a growing trend on death rows in the 29 states where capital punishment is still legal. Prisoners sentenced to die are getting older, and with age are developing a decline in mental and physical health. By the time they reach the execution chamber, they may have already spent decades in decline.
“It presents the public with important moral questions,” stated Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. “Should the death penalty be carried out in circumstances in which execution doesn’t seem to advance the interests for which it was imposed? And are we the type of people who kill disabled, frail people who are completely incapacitated?”
In the present-day era of the death penalty, the only other known execution of a blind person occurred in 2006. Attorneys for Clarence Ray Allen pleaded with the California governor and the US Supreme Court to allow him to serve the rest of his life in prison, saying that killing a 76-year-old man in his condition amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. Allen was subsequently executed by lethal injection by California in 2006.