Louisiana AG deals blow to death row inmates’ clemency requests

BATON ROUGE — Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry dealt a historic blow to some death row inmates who have recently filed clemency requests.

In response to a question from Louisiana’s Board of Pardons and Committee on Parole regarding clemency requests filed more than a year after a judge has issued an appeal ruling in capital cases, Landry wrote an opinion on Wednesday stating that it’s not possible.

Landry’s four-page opinion asserts that the pardon and parole board can’t use a waiver written into its policy to consider clemency pleas more than a year after a judge’s ruling. He points 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.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, Edwards expressed his opposition to capital punishment in a seminar at Loyola University in New Orleans on March 22. During the seminar, Edwards based his opposition to the death penalty on his religious faith and stated, “The death penalty is so final. When you make a mistake, you can’t get it back. And we know that mistakes have been made in sentencing people to death.” He also noted that a shortage of lethal injection drugs has halted all executions in the state for the past 13 years, with Louisiana carrying out only one execution in almost 21 years, which occurred in 2010.

Since 1973, 11 prisoners have been freed from the state’s death row and exonerated. 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.

The Capital Area Law Enforcement Foundation opposes the clemency hearings, including those of 11 convicted killers from East Baton Rouge Parish. CALEF President Pat Englade expressed concerns that these expedited proceedings seem to deviate from the standard protocols, timetables, and procedures of clemency actions. He suggested that this rush may serve a political purpose, aiming to complete the cases before Gov. John Bel Edwards leaves office.

Englade further questioned how it benefits the state of Louisiana and the criminal justice system to move these cases forward, leaving little time for the prosecutors and the families of victims to prepare their pertinent testimony.

“By all appearances, these expedited proceedings fall outside of the standard protocols, timetables, and procedures of clemency actions, and further appear to be so to suit a political purpose, that being to have them completed before Gov. John Bel Edwards leaves office,” Englade said. “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?”

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