Appeals court denies death row inmate request to reopen case

An appellate court has denied a Tennessee death row inmate’s request to reopen his case after unknown DNA was found

ByThe Associated Press
April 15, 2022, 7:38 PM

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- An appellate court has denied a Tennessee death row inmate's request to reopen his case after unknown DNA was found.

The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals ruled late Thursday that Oscar Smith, 71, "has not presented new scientific evidence establishing that he is actually innocent of the murders of the victims,” The Tennessean reported.

Smith's attorney, Amy Harwell, earlier Thursday sought a stay of execution from the Tennessee Supreme Court so the lower court could consider the request. The motion for a state of execution was still pending Friday afternoon.

Smith is scheduled to receive a lethal injection April 21. He was convicted of fatally stabbing and shooting his estranged wife, Judith Smith, and her sons, Jason and Chad Burnett, 13 and 16, at their Nashville home on Oct. 1, 1989. Smith has maintained that he is innocent.

Earlier this month, Smith asked the Davidson County Criminal Court to reopen his case after a new type of DNA analysis found the DNA of an unknown person on one of the murder weapons. The judge denied that request as well as a second request to reconsider, writing that the evidence of Smith’s guilt was extensive. Smith appealed.

Smith's attorneys argued in Thursday's motion that the Criminal Court judge incorrectly applied the law when it denied Smith’s request to reopen his case.

Smith previously sought to prove that fingerprint evidence used against him was unreliable. In Thursday’s motion, Smith’s attorneys argued the combination of a fingerprint and DNA from an unknown person on one of the murder weapons should be considered together as strong proof of his innocence.

In Thursday's opinion, Judge Timothy Easter detailed the evidence against Smith, including prior threats and a life insurance policy taken out by Smith for the three victims.

“Thus, the court concludes there is not a reasonable probability that the recently discovered DNA evidence would have prevented Petitioner’s prosecution or conviction,” Easter wrote.

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