BATON ROUGE — East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore announced he filed an injunction Tuesday to stop clemency hearings for Louisiana death row inmates.
Fifty-six inmates on death row filed applications for clemency to have their sentences reduced to life in prison. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards sent a letter to the state parole board asking for the hearings to be heard.
“This petition is not about the governor,” Moore said Tuesday. “It’s definitely not about any angst toward the pardon board. What troubles us is the nature of how all of this evolved. A month and a half ago, we received a phone call informing us that 56 petitions for commutation were going to be filed for all death row inmates. We had never heard of this before.”
The first group of hearing dates have been set. Officials said 20 inmates are set to have their hearings in October or November.
“We knew ahead of time that there were already 440 applications for commutation that had already been set, and their procedures took a minimum of one year, up to two years,” Moore said. “And now, at this last moment on these June filers for the worst, most heinous violent offenders, for them to be put ahead of 440 other people who are actually eligible to be heard for commutation is wrong.”
Victims’ families speak out
Former NFL player Warrick Dunn and his sister, Summer Smothers, and several others were at Tuesday’s injunction filing. The person who killed Dunn’s mother, Betty Smothers, is among the inmates up for commutation.
Cpl. Betty Smothers was murdered in 1993 while moonlighting off-duty as an escort for a grocery store manager looking to make a night deposit at the bank.
“I’ve been dealing with this for 30 years,” Dunn said. “To receive a letter about commuting sentences for individuals who committed heinous crimes, to me, it’s disrespectful. My mom has been gone for 30 years. She would never be able to meet her grandkids. She missed all the experiences of the things that I’ve done in my life. This guy’s been in prison for 30 years, waking up every day, eating three meals, breathing, and laughing. He’s able to pick up the phone and call his family members. We can’t do that.”
Summer Smothers said no one understands her mother’s death’s impact on her family.
“We have kids now, and for our kids to want to meet their grandmother, and we have to tell stories of our mother, and they’re like, ‘Can we see our grandmother’,” she said. “We have to take a flight or a seven-hour drive to St. Francisville so they can see a tombstone they can’t speak back to. The impact this has on us is a revolving door that we never can heal from. I always ask people how can you heal a broken heart?”
Glenda Jenkins Lacroix lost her son Robert Cox in 1995 when Julius Holden shot him six times and killed him. She said she would continue to fight the commutations until the end.
“I’m very angry,” she said. “How would he (Gov. Edwards) like it if it was his daughter or son that was lying on the ground that he had to go and visit?” she said. “He couldn’t hug his child or tell them how much he loved them. He wasn’t there to see his child like I did in the street dead and couldn’t get to him. I sat for an hour and watched him lay in the road alone. I cried because I couldn’t get to him. As a mother, do you know how that felt?
“I pray he never has to feel what I felt,” she continued. “I pray he never has to look down in a casket and take a last look at his child and never get to see his child again. Yet, he will let him (Holden) run loose to do it again. He was a cold-blooded killer. He shot him five times, walked up to him with a six bullet, and put it right between his eyes. We could have gone with the death penalty, but I was okay with life. Now, they are taking that from me. I’m not okay with that. This will traumatize my family.”
DA Moore filed his petition at 2pm on Sept. 12. for injunctive relief against the Louisiana Pardon Board. The petition seeks to void the Board’s decision to set several death row defendants for commutation hearings and ensure that any further decisions are in accordance with established law, rules, and policies.
The petition clearly outlines the proper authority of the Governor and Pardon Board and the procedures, which the law requires they must follow to set and hold hearings on commutations.
“This process has not been followed for this special group of inmates who are incarcerated for the worst of offenses. The petition is based on facts and law and not on conjecture or politics. This petition is not about the propriety of the death penalty, nor an attack of the Pardon Board or Governor, but simply about following the rule of law and not advocating end runs around the law which undermine our system of justice and put individuals’ values before others’ rights,” said Moore.
“The petition represents the real death row of victims killed over the past several decades and whose families are still living with their loss. Their death row is not at Angola but scattered around the various parishes of our state. This is about their rights and voices who have been shuttered or given less meaning than those who have been fortunate to live and now fight for a sentence reduction, without any acknowledgement of their wrongdoing as they seek even further relief from the system,” he added.