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Faces of Tennessee's death row

The end of the line on death row in Tennessee

There are names that have made headlines, for they have committed atrocities and crimes beyond imagination. Some of the names appear in books and journals. Then there are names that made a headline or two, but now they appear simply as names on a list, a list of persons incarcerated on Tennessee's Death Row. Tennessee's Death Row is located at the Riverbend Unit, the sole female on death row is incarcerated at the Tennessee Prison for Women.

Names like Byron Lewis Black, sentenced to death row in 1989 for the 1988 murders of his girlfriend, Angela Clay, and her two daughters: LaToya, who was 9, and Lakeisha, only 6. He shot Angela as she lay sleeping in her bed. LaToya was found in the same room, wedged between the bed and furniture as her body fell halfway off the bed. The coroner ruled the little girl lived between five and ten thirty minutes after the bullet tore through her body. Lakeisha had tried to save herself, despite being shot in the chest. Byron Black smiles widely in his mugshot.

On February 5, 1997 the name Jon D. Hall was added to the list. In 1994 he disconnected the outside phone lines of Billie Jo Hall, his estranged wife, before he entered her home. They began to argue and he began to beat her. Their children attempted to save Billie Jo, who told them to leave the house. When police arrived they found Billie Jo facedown in the family backyard swimming pool. Billie Jo had fought hard for her life; she had a broken nose, bruises, abrasions, and cuts. It was undetermined if she drowned or was choked to death. Hall blamed the crime on his "temper" and alcohol dependence.

Donald Strouth was born in 1959; in 1978 he was sentenced to death row for the murder of James Keegan, found dead on the floor of his used clothing store. The motive was robbery; Strouth and his codefendant had observed Keegan with a roll of money a few days prior. Keegan's throat had been slit and he had been hit over the head. His codefendant's mother drove from North Carolina to Tennessee to help hide the perpetrators for two weeks prior to their arrest.

The Jade East Restaurant in Memphis had been a family owned and operated business for years by the Lees, Chinese immigrants who came to America seeking a dream. They briefly hired a man named Heck Van Tran, who was fired shortly after he was hired. Tran revisited the restaurant in 1987 with friends and left three of the Lees dead; one of the victims was a grandmother and 70 years old. Another elderly woman was beaten and left for dead. Tran was sentenced to die in a 1989 trial.

In 2001 Deputy Sheriff Donald Bond, Jr. was found dead in a Chattanooga street. His body was riddled with bullets, to include those of an AK-47. Marlon Duane Kiser was arrested for the crime. It was discovered Deputy Bond had caught Kiser in the act of arson. Kiser called the murder "stress relief." Kiser confided in a friend, who turned him over to law enforcement. Kiser was arrested shortly afterward, fighting officers and attempting to grab the arresting officer's weapon. Kiser was sentenced to death on November 20, 2003. Bond was in his second year as an officer; he left behind a wife, parents, and siblings.

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photo of J. Yates CREDIT

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