Attorney General Jeff Landry is blaming Gov. John Bel Edwards for the continued delay of executions in Louisiana and has withdrawn his office from a lawsuit challenging the state's lethal injection protocol.
Landry, a Republican, has frequently traded barbs with the Democratic governor since the two took office in 2016. The latest flare-up comes after the Edwards administration successfully petitioned the court for a year-long extension of an order that now prohibits the state from carrying out any executions through at least July 2019, citing hurdles the state has faced in legally carrying out the death penalty. Louisiana last executed an inmate in 2010 and he volunteered.
"Louisiana currently has over 70 inmates on death row awaiting execution and the state has not carried out a death sentence since 2010, even though a large and growing number of victims’ families suffer in legal limbo waiting for justice to be carried out," Landry, who is seen as a potential challenger to Edwards in the 2019 governor's race, wrote in a scathing letter to Edwards on Wednesday, accusing the Edwards administration of "ceding control to a federal court."
Landry detailed in his two-page letter, which was also delivered to the Louisiana District Attorneys Association, Louisiana Sheriffs Association and Crimefighters of Louisiana, several executions that have taken place in other states in recent years.
"All of this begs the question that only you can answer: why do victims’ rights matter in Texas, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, Ohio, and Virginia but not in Louisiana?" he wrote.
Edwards, during his monthly call-in radio show that aired Wednesday, said he had not heard directly from Landry to discuss the matter but he argued that the state cannot legally comply with lethal injection protocols because of a national shortage of drugs used to carry out death sentences.
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana authorities are seeking a court order that would rule out any executions in the state for at least one more year.
"We're just not capable of executing someone within accordance of the law," he said.
Edwards, in a written statement, expanded upon his objections to Landry's claim and also accused Landry of playing politics with the issue.
"In the one year since the state last requested a stay, which the attorney general signed on and supported at the time, nothing has changed – the drugs are not available and legislation has not passed to address concerns of drug companies or offer alternative forms of execution," Edwards said. "This is nothing more than political grandstanding from the attorney general and a clear abdication of his responsibility as the state’s ‘chief legal officer.’”
Louisiana has two alternatives for carrying out lethal injections: a single injection of the powerful sedative pentobarbital or a combination of the sedative midazolam and hydromorphone, which is a painkiller.
The Department of Corrections said in a statement that numerous pharmaceutical companies have repeatedly refused to sell DOC "any of the drug compounds needed to carry out the execution under either protocol."
"DOC also explored the option of using a compound pharmacist, but this option was fruitless due to the lack of privacy protections and the inability to remain anonymous," Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc said in the statement.
Landry said his office has undergone "exhaustive efforts to get (the Edwards administration) to work with our team to bring our state’s most monstrous criminals to justice."
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"However, I discovered the biggest obstacle to getting justice for our state’s crime victims was neither the federal case nor the difficulty obtaining drugs; it has and continues to be your unwillingness to proceed with any executions," Landry wrote. "I remain committed to fighting for our crime victims and their families, who have already waited too long to see justice carried out. I encourage you to change your position and work with the (Louisiana Department of Justice) to see justice carried out."
LeBlanc called Landry's description of the efforts "exaggerated at best."
"One meeting occurred In October of 2017 between DOJ and DOC during which we discussed the issues I mention above, as well as the consensus that legislation was needed to address the privacy concerns in order to move forward," he said in his statement. "Neither I, nor my staff, have ever received any additional communication from DOJ or the DAs regarding next steps or any of the follow up information they agreed to provide us concerning pharmacy board licensing."
The state's inability to carry out death sentences has been cited among recent efforts to abolish capital punishment in Louisiana that have recently gained traction at the State Capitol but have ultimately been unsuccessful.