A 6-year-old lawsuit that claims high heat indexes on Louisiana's death row subjects three ailing condemned killers to cruel and unusual punishment, and leaves them at risk of serious illness or even death, has been conditionally dismissed by a federal judge in Baton Rouge.
U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson's final dismissal of the suit is conditioned upon the state remaining in "substantial compliance" for one year with a settlement agreement signed last November by attorneys for the three prisoners and the state Department of Corrections.
Jackson, who last month granted a joint request to conditionally dismiss the 2013 civil rights lawsuit, could make that dismissal final this November.
The settlement agreement calls for daily showers for the three Angola inmates of at least 15 minutes; individual ice containers that are timely replenished by prison staff; individual fans; water faucets in their cells; "IcyBreeze" units or so-called "Cajun coolers"; and the diversion of cool air from the death-row guard pod into their cells.
Modified ice chests known as "Cajun coolers" and other remedial measures are succeeding in curbing the heat index where three ailing death row…
Most of those measures have been in use for months.
"The plaintiffs are happy that the parties could come together and find an agreement that keeps them in constitutional conditions," Mercedes Montagnes, the inmates' lead attorney, said Thursday.
The Louisiana Attorney General's Office, which is representing the state in the case, is withholding comment until the suit's dismissal is final, spokesman Jacques Ambers said. Department of Corrections spokesman Ken Pastorick also declined comment, citing the ongoing case.
The case has been the subject of intense litigation for the past six years and has made several trips to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
The appellate court ruled in early 2018 that the state doesn't have to prevent heat indexes on death row at the Louisiana State Penitentiary from topping 88 degrees as Jackson previously ordered.
Three ailing Louisiana death row inmates will still have to be protected from excessive heat during the sweltering summer months, but a federa…
The appeals court, however, said inmates Elzie Ball, Nathaniel Code and James Magee still must be protected from excessive heat during the sweltering summer months, but the judges gave state corrections officials more latitude to decide how to keep them cool.
Attorney General Jeff Landry has said previously that the Constitution "does not require prisons to be comfortable; it requires them to be humane."
Ball, Code and Magee have high blood pressure and other health conditions that their attorneys say are exacerbated by high heat.
Under the settlement agreement, the state will continue to monitor — on a daily basis from April through October — the heat and humidity in the tier where the three inmates are housed.
When the heat index — a measure of temperature and humidity — within their cells reaches or exceeds 88 degrees, the measures that include ice, fans and "IcyBreeze" units will be provided, the agreement states.
IcyBreeze is a brand name, but the modified ice chests also have been referred to in court documents as "Cajun coolers," essentially ice chests equipped with fans and ducting to blow cool air.
Paul Hebert, the court-appointed special master in the case, stated in his final report last November that the remedial measures are working to prevent the heat index from topping 88 degrees in the area where the three inmates reside.
Jackson and the 5th Circuit both found that subjecting the ailing inmates to excessive heat constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, and that some remedies are necessary to protect their health and safety.
The appeals court, though, has said on more than one occasion that Ball, Code and Magee aren't entitled to air conditioning on Angola's death row.
With south Louisiana's summer heat and humidity kicking into high gear, the legal battle rages on over how to best protect three ailing condem…
Ball was condemned to die for the 1996 shooting death of beer deliveryman Ben Scorsone during an armed robbery of a Gretna lounge.
Magee received the death penalty for the shotgun slaying of his estranged wife, Adrienne Magee, and their 5-year-old son, Zach, in a subdivision near Mandeville in 2007.
Code was sentenced to death for killing four people at a house in Shreveport in 1985.