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Tennessee death row schedule goes against national trend

Many states with capital punishment continue on a downward trend of executions, but Tennessee has filled its schedule with dates it will carry out the death penalty.

ANDERSONVILLE, Tenn. — At his home in Andersonville, Eddie Campbell has accumulated a large box of letters and other documentation as the state's next-of-kin for Wanda and Sheila Romines.  The mother and daughter were tortured and murdered at their home in 1986.

When the murders happened, Campbell was not the next-of-kin. He was a close friend and distant relative of Jack Romines, the man whose wife and daughter were slaughtered at home by Steve West and Ronnie Martin.  

Campbell became the Romines family representative for the state when Jack Romines died in 2004.

"It has been so long, 33 years, a lot of people die off. Jack was like a brother to me. He told me all the time, 'Eddie, I want you to see that this [execution] goes through' if he did not live long enough to see it. I promised him I would do what I could," said Campbell.  "West has been scheduled to die a few times before, but I think this time it is really going to happen."

Credit: WBIR
Letter to Eddie Campbell from the Tennessee Attorney General notifying him Steve West's execution is scheduled Aug. 15, 2019.

The death Jack Romines sought was convicted murderer and death row inmate Steve West, who is now scheduled to die Aug. 15, 2019, at the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville.  West was convicted and sentenced to die in the electric chair in 1987. 

PREVIOUS: Aug. 10, 2018 - Family awaits execution date for Steve West

West's co-defendant, Ronnie Martin, pleaded guilty after West was convicted and avoided death row. Martin was also unlikely to receive the death penalty because he was a minor when he murdered Wanda and Sheila Romines. Sheila and Martin both attended Anderson County High School.

Campbell thinks West will be executed because seeing is believing. In the last six months, Tennessee has executed three inmates and now has six more executions scheduled through April 2020.

Credit: WBIR
WBIR archive footage of convicted murderers Steve West (left) and Ronnie Martin (right) in 1987.

NBC News reports the surge in scheduled executions in Tennessee goes against the national trend in the rest of the 30 states with capital punishment. 

LINK NBC News:  Feb. 3, 2019 - As U.S. executions wane, Tennessee moves to put more inmates to death.

One of the main reasons other states have slowed executions is they are still arguing whether the drugs used for lethal injections amount to cruel and unusual punishment.  The drugs used to execute inmates vary from state to state.  

Tennessee's Supreme Court ruled last year the mix of drugs used by the state is not unconstitutional punishment. The state then began scheduling regular executions for inmates who have been on death row since the 1980s. The executions resumed with Billy Irick's lethal injection Aug. 9, 2018.

PREVIOUS: Jul. 2018 - Remembering why: rape and murder of Paula Dyer

Two more executions took place in November and December of 2018. Both inmates chose to die in the electric chair rather than lethal injection.

West is one of six death row inmates who currently have execution dates scheduled.  Another death row inmate from East Tennessee, Nicky Sutton, is set to die in Feb. 2020.

The electric chair in the death chamber at Riverbend Maximum Security Prison in Nashville.

While we know when the state intends to kill West and Sutton, we do not know how the sentence will be carried out. Because both were originally sentenced to die in the electric chair, they can choose electrocution rather than lethal injection. 

Both West and Sutton have filed a lawsuit requesting death by firing squad, a form of execution not offered in Tennessee. 

"I don't care what [execution method] they use. If it was me and I was in that situation, I would choose the fastest method," said Campbell.  "How ever they want to do it, it needs to be done. This has been a long time coming. Either have the death penalty or don't have it. Don't have the death penalty and then take such a long time to carry out the sentence that you keep everyone in limbo and make families continue reliving these tragedies with every appeal."

Credit: WBIR
Eddie Campbell, family representative for 1986 murder victims Wanda and Sheila Romines.

While Tennessee has a full schedule of executions compared to the rest of the country, Campbell says waiting more than three decades is clearly not a rush to judgment.

"Really and truly, right now it's just waiting for August. I promised Jack I'd do that [see that West is executed] and I will. I feel like Jack needs to be represented," said Campbell.