A portable air conditioner consisting of an ice chest, fan and duct has a "high potential for success" in helping to drop the extreme heat indexes on Louisiana's death row that threaten three ailing condemned killers, an air conditioning expert appointed by a federal judge testified Monday.

The portable A/C units were referred to almost exclusively during Monday's court hearing as "IcyBreeze" units, which is a brand name, but during a hearing earlier this month and in previously filed court documents the units were called "Cajun coolers."

Whatever the name, Shane Hernandez, a professional engineer and A/C expert in Lafayette, told Chief U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson the low-tech units placed outside the inmates' cells work.

Jackson ordered state corrections officials in December 2013 to prevent heat indexes — a measure of temperature and humidity — on death row at Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola from topping 88 degrees.

Hernandez testified the humidity levels on the portion of tier "C" where the three inmates have been moved are "much more comfortable" than other death-row tiers that don't have the portable A/C units.

"My clients for the first time in three years are in a reasonable condition," Mercedes Montagnes, the inmates' lead attorney, told Jackson.

Mary Roper, one of the state's lawyers, argued the portable A/C units, as well as a hole cut in the tier C door to allow cool air from the air-conditioned guard pod to move into the tier, are merely "temporary and experimental" measures.

Roper maintained that the daily cool shower, ice chests filled with ice, and extra fans that condemned prisoners Elzie Ball, Nathaniel Code and James Magee are being provided are sufficient to remedy the constitutional violation that Jackson and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found on death row.

The judge and appellate court said subjecting the ailing inmates to such high heat indexes amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

Jackson, who said the testimony given Monday was very helpful, promised to issue a ruling "in pretty short order."

The state contends its second heat-remediation plan -- the plan that includes showers, ice chests and fans, but no portable A/C units -- is adequate, but the inmates' attorneys dispute that contention.

     

   

Follow Joe Gyan Jr. on Twitter, @JoeGyanJr.