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Tenn. attorney general trying to stop executioner testimony

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee’s attorney general on Wednesday asked for an emergency order to prevent the state’s executioner from testifying in a trial about the constitutionality of lethal injection, an action that could potentially halt the proceeding.

Attorney General Herbert Slatery filed the motion with the Tennessee Court of Appeals. He is asking the higher court to jump in and decide the testimony issue before waiting for the trial in Davidson County Chancery Court to finish. If granted, it would be the third extraordinary appeal in the case.

The motion came in response to an order issued Tuesday at the request of attorneys representing 33 death row inmates. Chancery Court Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman ordered the executioner to testify by telephone with his or her voice disguised.

The trial has already been stalled over two other legal disputes. One challenged Bonnyman’s decision to let the inmates’ attorneys know the identities of the execution team. That decision was overruled by the Tennessee Supreme Court. It found the identities of the individuals carrying out the lethal injection protocol were not relevant to the case. That’s because the lawsuit challenges the written lethal injection protocol, not how it is carried out by specific people.

In his motion to prevent the executioner from testifying, Slatery argued the testimony is irrelevant for the same reason the identities were not relevant. That is, any testimony from the individual carrying out the execution will not shed light on the constitutionality of the written protocol.

Bonnyman overruled a similar objection made by the state’s attorneys in court Tuesday.

According to court documents, Bonnyman said, “The Court sees the probable relevancy of the executioner’s testimony regarding the events in the protocol and the administration of the protocol.”

In asking the Court of Appeals to issue an immediate order barring the testimony, Slatery argued there could be irreparable harm if the testimony were to go forward because of the potential the executioner’s identity could be revealed.

Slatery’s motion also asks the Appeals Court to stop the inmates’ attorneys from visiting the execution chamber. Bonnyman granted the visit on Tuesday, but Slatery argues that it “violates the clear directive of the Supreme Court” that the protocol must be evaluated as it is written, not as it might be applied under specific circumstances.

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