When Chief U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson toured the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola in summer 2013, he ruled several months later that the high heat and humidity on death row violate the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment, and he ordered state corrections officials not to let heat indexes top 88 degrees.
On the heels of recorded heat indexes already exceeding the 88-degree mark five times between May 12 and May 25 on Angola’s death row, Jackson is scheduled to make a return trip to the maximum-security prison Friday.
His site visit comes as a key federal court hearing looms June 15 in the long-running case of three ailing Louisiana death-row inmates who sued the state in 2013 over extreme heat indexes where they are housed.
Attorneys for the condemned killers contend the state’s second court-ordered heat remediation plan has utterly failed — a contention the state flatly rejects — and they’re asking Jackson to order the state to implement it’s original court-ordered plan.
That first heat remediation plan, which the Baton Rouge federal judge approved in May 2014, included air conditioning, ice chests filled with ice and once-daily cool showers.
But a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans halted the plan’s implementation in June 2014 and ruled last July that the three prisoners are entitled to some relief — such as cool showers, cold drinking water and ice, personal ice containers and individual fans, and more ice machines — but not air-conditioned quarters.
Lawyers for death-row inmates Elzie Ball, Nathaniel Code and James Magee argue the state has “consistently failed” to effectively remedy the constitutional violation found by both Jackson and the 5th Circuit panel.
“Remediation plans to correct constitutional violations must, in fact, correct that violation,” the lawyers say in a May 16 court filing asking for Jackson to intervene. “The prison has had nearly three years to consider what remedy other than mechanical cooling could address the extreme heat and humidity and ... resulting health risks, yet it has failed to develop a plan that remedies the constitutional violation.”
The state’s attorneys, in a May 19 opposition to that request, claim the current heat remediation plan has not failed, that no constitutional violation exists and that there are no grounds to order the installation of air conditioning on death row.
“An order to control the climate and maintain a heat index at or below 88 degrees is the same as an order to install air conditioning,” the state’s lawyers argue. “The Fifth Circuit held that air conditioning is not an acceptable remedy for a court to require in this case.”
Ball was condemned to die for fatally shooting a beer delivery man at a Gretna lounge during a 1996 armed robbery. Magee is on death row for the 2007 shotgun slaying of his estranged wife and their 5-year-old son in Mandeville. Code was sentenced to death for killing four people in a Shreveport house in 1985.
Jackson has ordered the three inmates’ attendance at the June 15 hearing. State Department of Public Safety and Corrections Secretary James LeBlanc also will be there.