Roy Exum: The Senseless Delay In Executing Lee Hall

Sunday, December 8, 2019 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

I have always enjoyed a strong belief in American justice. I believe in our courts system, most especially the foundation that “everyone is innocent until proven guilty.” I believe in every judge we entrust to do the right thing and hope my trust in both our prosecutors and our defenders will rarely waver. Sure, there are times when I have doubt and the way I have overcome that is when lawyers, those at the district attorney’s office, and even the judges themselves kindly remind me that the system is far from perfect, which is why there has always been a concerted effort to improve it. Further, I believe in the death penalty, as was carried out Thursday when Lee Hall was duly punished for his heinous murder of Traci Crozier. A jury of our county’s citizens found him guilty in 1992 and justice, as described in my Bible, is finally complete.

What makes me sick to my stomach is that Traci Crozier died within a day or two after Hall set her afire after dousing her with gasoline in 1991 but it took almost 30 years until Hall’s prescribed death. Just as the crime itself indicates he was a monster, it is a sign of a sick society that it has taken over 28 years for justice to be served and I reserve my prayers that God will forgive each of those who took part in what I believe has been a debauchery of a human being. After being found guilty, Hall was not to be stripped of his primary rights as outlined for the condemned, yet I believe anyone found guilty and sentenced to death by those who heard every word said in that courtroom, should be executed as soon as is humanely possible, if not that very same day.

Very smart people and the sharpest legal minds have both encouraged and entangled the appeals process which is now virtually untenable. I would ask the American Bar Association to revise the standards where the opinion of one judge far away could not usurp the shared opinion of 12 jury members, a judge seated by an election process, and a sentence that he found right and proper. Again, these people were there and saw the whole thing. They saw the families cry simultaneously on different sides of the courtroom, listened to the questions and the answers. What better experts?

In 1992 Hall was placed on death row and that’s where the travesty has been on an open stage for the public to see. Nobody should be caged for 30 years and then executed. Hall actually went blind waiting on his fate, a point heavily used to invoke sympathy that he, we must remember, denied Crozier after they had lived together. I believe that because of his actions he should accept the responsibility. And, while almost every execution I have ever read about includes remorse, a public apology, an acceptance of God, and a very physical presence of those who disagree with the death penalty, my stock answer is that I am thrilled for a death-house conversion, but only God, who forgives those who asks His forgiveness, can see the inside of a sinner’s heart and His Judgement Day is yet to be.

Today there remains little if any doubt that Hall deserved to die. But if you will review over a quarter-century of torment, agony, despair and abject idiocy that two entire families of both the victim and the murderer had to endure, Hall left far more victims than Crozier in his wake. Consider what he did to his own family, and to cause an ample group of friends and acquaintances on both sides, and hundreds in our justice system who have been force-fed to actually swallow this debacle, what a classic example of why we need a total justice reform.

The age-old excuse is: “But what if he’s innocent?” I get that but compare it to the fact that never have we had more “unfair” shootings in our community, and “unfair” everything else. It could be said that improper treatment for glaucoma that caused Hall to go blind on death row was “unfair,” just as it was “unfair” for Erlanger’s miraculous miracle workers in the ER to try to save a girl with 95 percent burns on her body. Get this straight: ‘Fair’ is a place you take your favorite pig in the summertime – nothing else in life is fair anymore.

This has gotten to be a tough world but the lust for money has been allowed to make most every playing field uneven. We’ve got a guy who is brazenly trying to use his billions to buy the presidency (Michael Bloomberg) and a USA Today poll – out the same day Hall died in the electric chair – just found the biggest problem in America is the fact we are solidly united in despair over being so angrily divided. Really. We are sick and tired of being mean to each other, according to the poll.

Not just that, we can bend and manipulate and distort one factual story into another that people will believe. Hall’s trial was a year after he killed his ex-girlfriend in 1991. He was then sentenced to death, but the state did not resume capital punishment until August of 2018. Hall was the sixth death row inmate to be executed in Tennessee since then. He was originally set to be executed in 1998 but the state could not enforce the sentence, and the same when he was rescheduled to be executed in 2016, the legal delays were masterfully executed but look at this …

Unbelievably, Hall was scheduled to be executed in October of this year, but his defense team found a Hamilton County juror from the 1992 trial who said her own history of a violent rape and abuse at the hands of her first husband – an alleged act which had to be 30 years ago (prior to the 1992 trial) – prejudiced her against Hall. Forget the fact the victim had burns over 95 percent of her body and an Erlanger physician testified it was the worst burn injuries he had ever seen. Plus, it took several days for Crozier to die. The point is that after almost 30 years and three prior execution dates, not until this fall did a juror say she was prejudiced. (Judge Don Poole, presented the finding, did not interfere with the scheduled execution date.)

Several years ago, a Chattanooga man, John Talley, was released from prison after over 30 years. He should have never spent that long in jail but there was “a three-strike rule” in effect at the time and to say there was a miscarriage of justice is an understatement. Many of us wrote letters – mine went to President Obama himself – and John was pardoned before dying of cancer within a year of his release.

Every review of every prison shows unfair sentencing, but Talley never sold drugs; he was just a “mule,” a delivery guy. Yes, he deserved to go to prison but, my gracious, wouldn’t five years have served the same purpose? Just as there are many others whose sentence have now outlasted the punishment, there are others who should be shifted to high-security mental facilities in the name of decency. Further, there are rarely any open-shut cases and the circumstances of a crime are never the same. Today we have “professional criminals” in Chattanooga who openly scoff at the courts. The backlog of cases waiting to be served is ridiculous and until some stern and direct changes are made, no one is happy with what law-and-order has become.

Every day about 100 prisoners are escorted from the County Jail to the Courts Building. Unless there have been recent changes, I was once told that over half never see the inside of a courtroom and are brought back day after day -- numerous times. This is due to a massive backlog but for all that isn’t working, the Drug Court and heroic efforts to reduce the mentally challenged from the jail are – believe it or not – reducing the demands on the courts for lesser crimes.

Trials should be speedy and punishment, when necessary, swift. Not long ago a college football player got ejected from a game for fighting, and the immediate 15-yard penalty included being unable to play for the first half in his team’s next game. “You know who you really just got hit?” his coach yelled with a nod towards his teammates. “What good does acting like you just did on national television do for anyone … most especially you?”

So, after over 28 years of hell, what good did Lee Hall’s senseless death penalty delay do for anyone?

That Much Good

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