NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Tennessee has executed only one death row inmate since the Supreme Court decided to allow states to reinstate the death penalty in 1976, but that could change Wednesday with inmates Paul Dennis Reid and Sedley Alley scheduled to be executed by lethal injection within hours of each other on the same day.
With appeals pending, it's still possible that both men could get a stay, but correction officials are getting ready for a double-execution just in case.
"We're going forward as if both executions will happen that day," said Correction Department spokeswoman Dorinda Carter.
Even though the death penalty remains politically popular in Tennessee, it hasn't been used since 2000 when the state executed child killer Robert Glen Coe by lethal injection.
The last time two people were executed in the state was 1955, and the most executions in one day were four in 1922. Carter said the state can handle multiple executions because the death watch area, where prisoners are moved three days before their scheduled execution, has four cells.
"Both men would be placed there," said Carter.
Reid, 48, was convicted of seven murders at fast-food restaurants in Nashville and Clarksville during a three-month period in 1997. He received seven death sentences.
Court records and previous testimony say Reid is mentally ill, brain damaged and that he believes he is being monitored and tormented by a military government.
Although he has been granted two previous stays, Reid has refused to sign legal papers to continue his appeals.
Earlier this month, Reid's sister filed a motion asking that her brother's execution be postponed because he's incompetent. The sister is not talking to reporters, and Reid's attorney refused to comment, but the motion filed earlier this month says a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge was wrong for not granting a stay of execution and for failing to conduct a competency hearing.
Reid dropped his appeals on two of his death sentences in 2003, clearing the way for his execution in April of that year. But another sister appealed to a federal appeals court, which delayed his execution.
The other inmate, Alley, is accused of kidnapping, sexually mutilating and killing a 19-year-old woman near Memphis in 1985.
Attorneys for Alley, 50, are trying to get DNA testing of murder scene evidence they say could show he didn't comment the murder and possibly provide information about who did.
A state appeals court refused last week to order DNA testing on crime-scene evidence, but Alley's lawyers say they will continue his appeals.
"Mr. Alley should be entitled to DNA testing," said Kelley Henry, an assistant federal public defender on Alley's case. Alley confessed to the murder, but argued at trial and on earlier appeals that he was not legally responsible because he suffered from multiple personalities. He began arguing his innocence in 2004.
Barry Scheck, co-founder of the nonprofit legal clinic called the Innocence Project and a member of Alley's legal team, contends a comparison of DNA found on the murder weapon, the victim's clothes and other murder-scene evidence might turn up a new suspect if compared with a national database of DNA from convicted criminals.
Scheck also contends the victim's former boyfriend, who has never been accused in the killing, could be a suspect.