The five members of the Bamburg family sat on black plastic chairs, waiting patiently for the hearing to begin on Thursday in Baton Rouge.
Just past 8:30 a.m., a feeble old man appeared in a wheelchair via video conferencing from a room at Angola, the state's maximum-security penitentiary.
Clyde Giddens, 77, gave his name and inmate number to the three members of the Louisiana Board of Pardons’ Committee on Parole. He was requesting a medical treatment furlough under an obscure provision in a bill passed by the state Legislature last year that aims to reduce Louisiana’s incarceration rate, the nation’s highest.
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Most of the state’s effort focuses on letting non-violent offenders out earlier than scheduled, but it also envisions releasing some violent offenders, like Giddens, who are seen as too sick to be dangerous.
Angola’s medical director, wearing a white coat and sitting next to Giddens, listed the inmate’s infirmities: arthritis, an enlarged prostate, a fractured leg, incontinence and dementia, among others.
“He meets the standards for nursing home placement,” said Dr. Randy Lavespere. “He’s one in need of total care.”
When Lavespere was done, Dennis Bamburg stood up and walked to a podium facing the board members.
He told them that Giddens had murdered his mother, Earline, and he said he totally opposed the inmate’s release. “The crime he did was so bad,” Bamburg said. “It should keep him from ever being released from Angola.”
The murder occurred in 1963, in Hickory Grove, a town in Red River Parish, south of Shreveport. Earline Bamburg was a 36-year-old housewife.
Her son related that when he was 15 years old, he returned home from school one day to find his house on fire.
A 1964 news account reported that only later did investigators realize that Earline Bamburg had been murdered, that she hadn’t died in the fire, after finding a knife and bloody clothes in a cornfield next to the house. They exhumed her body.
Dennis Bamburg related what they found. The murderer had mutilated her body and carried parts of it into the woods.
“He fed my mother’s flesh to dogs,” Bamburg said, his voice steady while he gripped the podium with both hands. “This is the man right here who did that. And now he wants compassion.”
The evidence led authorities to Giddens, a native of Coushatta in Red River Parish who had been absent without leave from his Navy base in Virginia. Just before he went on trial, where he faced the death penalty if convicted, Giddens pleaded guilty. Why he killed Earline Bamburg is not clear.
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Bamburg said the family agreed back then to a judge sentencing Giddens to life in prison, as long as it meant that he would never win release. The worst punishment Giddens could receive, Bamburg said, was to spend the rest of his life thinking about what he had done to Earline Bamburg.
“He looks old,” Dennis Bamburg told the pardon board. “That is an evil person.”
His daughter Angel followed him to the podium. She began to cry before she got started. “I’ll be ok,” she said as her father stood up and began to walk toward her.
Reading from handwritten notes, Angel talked about how much she missed the grandmother she never met. “I’ve loved her my entire life,” Angel said.
Of Giddens, she said: “He is a threat and should be treated as that.”
“There’s sadness in our house,” she added. “Give us the peace that he will die in prison.”
State Sen. Ryan Gatti followed her. He is a Republican state senator from Bossier Parish. The Bamburgs are friends who live in his legislative district, just south of Bossier City.
Gatti said that Giddens cannot be trusted, that he said in a newspaper interview last year that he knifed a man to death. (Giddens said that to this reporter in an article for a separate publication.)
“My biggest fear is he’ll go back home to our area,” Gatti said, adding that legislators never intended for a criminal such as Giddens to get mercy.
In an interview later, Gatti said that he has filed Senate Bill 458 to deny medical treatment furloughs to offenders convicted of first-degree or second-degree murder. It would apply to Giddens. Gatti said the prohibition should have been included in last year’s legislation but was overlooked in the rush to pass it.
Julie Jones, the district attorney in Red River Parish, talking over a speaker phone to the parole board members, also said Giddens should remain in prison. She noted that he had been denied parole during a clemency board hearing last year and called his latest effort an “end-run around” that ruling.
U.S. Sen. John N. Kennedy sent the board a letter opposing the inmate’s release.
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Sheryl Ranatza, the parole board chair, who spent 30 years in management positions at the state Department of Corrections, invited Giddens to speak.
Talking slowly, he said he wasn’t sure he committed the murder because of his stroke-induced memory loss. “I keep repeating that I killed my ex-wife,” he said.
Then it was the board’s turn to vote.
Brennan Kelsey, a physical therapist, said he didn’t think Giddens had taken responsibility for the crime. He voted against Giddens’ release.
Alvin Roche Jr., a retired director of library services at Southern’s law school, said he didn’t think Giddens deserved freedom. Ranatza concurred. The vote was unanimous. The 40-minute hearing was over.
As the Bamburg family got up to leave the pardon board hearing, a guard at Angola could be seen wheeling Giddens out of the prison visiting room.
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