Sabrina Butler Smith

Sabrina Butler Smith will join a group of panelists at the Dyersburg State Community College (DSCC) Jimmy Naifeh Center at Tipton County Thursday, October 18, 2018, at 10 a.m. for a discussion entitled ‘A Broken System: Perspectives on the Death Penalty in Tennessee’.

In 1990, Sabrina Butler Smith, a teen mother from Mississippi, was convicted of murdering her nine-month-old son, Walter. She was later exonerated of all wrongdoing, and is one of only two women in the United States exonerated from death row.

On April 12, 1989, Smith rushed Walter to the hospital after he suddenly stopped breathing. Doctors tried to resuscitate the baby, but failed. The day after her son’s death, Smith was arrested for child abuse because of bruises left by her resuscitation attempts. She was convicted of murder and sentenced to death.

The Mississippi Supreme Court overturned her conviction in 1992. The Court said that the prosecution had failed to prove that the incident was anything more than an accident.

At retrial on Dec. 17, 1995, she was acquitted after a very brief jury deliberation. It is now believed that the baby may have died either of cystic kidney disease or from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Smith spent more than five years in prison and 33 months on death row.

Other panelists at the event include Cynthia Vaughn, whose mother, Connie, was murdered in Memphis in 1984 and whose stepfather, Don Johnson, is now on Tennessee’s death row convicted of the crime; Amy Lawrence, coordinator of Tennessee Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty; and Reverend Stacy Rector, a native of Dyersburg and executive director of Tennesseans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (TADP).

“Since 1973, 160 people have been exonerated and released from death row in this country,” said TADP Director Reverend Stacy Rector. “Since 2000, Tennessee has released four individuals who were wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death while executing six. Mrs. Smith’s story reminds us of just how real the risk of executing an innocent person really is, particularly as the State plans to resume executions this year.”  

This event is sponsored by DSCC’s Criminal Justice department, Sociology department, Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and the TADP.

The event will be held in the Baptist Memorial Health Care Academic Building Auditorium located at 3149 Highway 51 South in Covington. Admission is free to the public.

For more information regarding this event, please contact Michael Brooks, DSCC associate professor of criminal justice, at 901-475-3164 or

Echo Day is The Leader's managing editor. To contact her, call 901-476-7116 or email