Clemency delayed after board drops death row inmates’ names from docket

BATON ROUGE – Monday’s Louisiana’s Pardons and Parole Board meeting resulted in the removal of all 56 death inmates’ requests for clemency from the review docket.

The board dropped the clemency requests from the docket, leading to a delay in their consideration.

“The applications filed on behalf of 56 offenders serving death sentences have been set aside pending further review of our administrative rules,” said Francis Abbott, Executive Director of the Louisiana Board of Pardons & Committee on Parole. 

Monday’s decision comes after Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry issued a four-page opinion last Wednesday, stating that the board couldn’t use a waiver written into its policy to consider clemency pleas more than a year after a judge’s ruling. He pointed out that this is partly because the death row prisoners don’t have execution dates set.

“The broad and ill-defined waiver ostensibly empowers the board to repeal portions of its own rules and enact new ones at will, on an ad-hoc basis, and without any notice to the public,” Landry wrote. “Such a result is impermissible under Louisiana law. In the matter at hand, there exists no factual basis for the board to engage in emergency rulemaking.”

The influx of clemency applications occurred in June after a bill to remove the death penalty failed during Louisiana’s legislative session for the fifth time in the last six years. It also followed remarks from Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards stating that he thought the death penalty should be abolished.

“The death penalty is so final,” the governor said in remarks during a seminar at Loyola University in New Orleans in March. “When you make a mistake, you can’t get it back. And we know that mistakes have been made in sentencing people to death.” 

The remarks and clemency filings received wide rebuke from East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore and the Capital Area Law Enforcement Foundation. Moore said bashed the flood of requests, and CALEF’s president Pat Englade believed the expedited proceedings deviate from the standard protocols, timetables, and procedures of clemency actions. Englade said the rush of requests was political.

“Current reporting shows that there are more than 400 cases in line ahead of these capital cases, which leads to a very important question: How does it benefit the state of Louisiana and our criminal justice system to move these cases forward, leaving the prosecutors who handled them, and the families of their victims very little time to prepare their pertinent testimony?”

Since 1973, 11 prisoners have been exonerated from the state’s death row. Notably, the state carried out an execution when Gerald Bordelon was voluntarily put to death in 2010 for the murder of his 12-year-old stepdaughter, Courtney LeBlanc.

A nearly 15 year shortage of lethal drugs used during executions has led to the state only carrying out one execution in almost 21 years.

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