With south Louisiana's summer heat and humidity kicking into high gear, the legal battle rages on over how to best protect three ailing condemned killers from extreme heat indexes on Angola's death row.
In the most recent federal court filings in the 3-year-old case, attorneys for Elzie Ball, Nathaniel Code and James Magee insist air conditioning is the only way to shield them from the substantial risk of heat-related illness or worse.
"Public health agencies as well as the medical community agree that exposure to air-conditioning is the only method of preventing heat-related illness and death in extreme heat," the inmates' attorneys, including lead lawyer Mercedes Montagnes with The Promise of Justice Initiative in New Orleans, argue in documents filed July 11 at Baton Rouge federal court.
Attorneys for state corrections officials, however, claim their second heat remediation plan - which calls for a daily cool shower and additional ice and fans for the prisoners - adequately remedies a violation of the constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment that Chief U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found in relation to the Louisiana State Penitentiary's death row.
Sensors have been installed on the death-row tiers at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at An…
The state's lawyers, in documents filed July 11 as well, contend the heat remediation plan's measures "are sufficient to cure the constitutional violation." They argue further that the relief "extends as far as is necessary to correct the constitutional violation in this matter."
Jackson opined last month at a hearing on the state's second remediation plan that corrections officials have done "little if anything" to prevent heat indexes on death row from topping 88 degrees, something he ordered them to do 2 1/2 years ago.
The state has done “little if anything” to keep the sweltering heat on Louisiana’s death row…
The state's first court-ordered heat remediation plan included air conditioning for the inmates, but the 5th Circuit ruled last summer the prisoners are not entitled to mechanical cooling. But the appellate court said they do deserve some relief.
In their latest court filing, the state's attorneys - a combination of private lawyers and assistant state attorney's general - say they interpret the 5th Circuit ruling to mean the state is not required to maintain the heat index in the inmates' cells below 88 degrees.
"The Fifth Circuit noted ... that a permanent injunction requiring (the state) to develop a plan to keep the heat index at or below 88 degrees would 'effectively' require (the state) to install air conditioning," the state's attorneys point out. "It is (the state's) position that the Fifth Circuit ruled that (the state) must implement sufficient remedial measures ... when the heat index reaches 88 degrees - not that (the state) must maintain the heat index below 88 degrees."
When Chief U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson toured the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Ango…
In its ruling last year, the New Orleans federal appeals court suggested the state could divert cool air from the air-conditioned guard pods into the death-row tiers or allow the inmates access to air-conditioned areas, but corrections officials rejected those suggestions for security and other reasons.
Three ailing condemned killers who claim Louisiana’s death row is unbearably hot can look fo…
The inmates' lawyers acknowledge that while no 5th Circuit case has previously upheld an order requiring air conditioning to remedy a violation of the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, no authority explicitly bars the use of air conditioning as a remedy.
"The Fifth Circuit itself suggested remedies which included exposure to air conditioning," the prisoners' attorneys note. "The Fifth Circuit plainly contemplated the need for remedial measures beyond ice, showers and fans."
"The Fifth Circuit has not - and could not - categorically bar the use of air-conditioning to remedy the Eighth Amendment violation," they add.
The state's first heat remediation plan remedies the constitutional violation and does not disrupt the effective administration of the prison, the inmates' attorneys say.
Code is on death row for the slaying of four people at a house in Shreveport in 1985. Magee received the death penalty for the 2007 shotgun killing of his estranged wife and their 5-year-old son in a subdivision near Mandeville. Ball was condemned to die for fatally shooting a beer delivery man during the 1996 armed robbery of a Gretna lounge.