Two former law enforcement officials filed legislation to do away with the death penalty in Louisiana.
Democratic state Rep. Terry Landry, of New Iberia and a former superintendent of the Louisiana State Police, and Republican state Sen. Dan Claitor, of Baton Rouge and a former prosecutor, filed separate, but nearly identical, bills.
Both Claitor’s Senate Bill 142 and Landry’s House Bill 101 would eliminate death as a possible sentence for defendants convicted of particularly heinous murders or rapes or treasonous acts that were committed after Aug. 1. Those convicted criminals would instead receive a sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole, if either measure passes both chambers of the Legislature and is signed into law by the governor.
Seventy-three men and one woman await execution on death row at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. (The woman was moved to Angola after the women’s prison in St. Gabriel flooded last August.)
The legislation, as now written, would not overturn their sentences. But having a law on the books that abolishes capital punishment into the future could prove persuasive in court if already condemned inmates seek to appeal their sentences.
Claitor said the motivation behind his legislation was a combination of religious faith and practical finances.
The Catholic Church has long opposed the death penalty on moral grounds. In the late 1990s, Pope John Paul II personally wrote governors in Texas, Ohio and Florida asking for clemency for specific condemned inmates.
Additionally, capital punishment is an expensive undertaking that this state doesn’t use.
It costs taxpayers roughly $1.52 million a year just to house condemned inmates on Louisiana’s death row, according to the Department of Corrections. That would be about the same expense if those same inmates were serving life sentences.
The costs rise geometrically when adding the expense of paying additional lawyers, court time and security for the judicial reviews legally required before the state can put to death a person. Plus, more expenses are incurred with post-conviction appeals undertaken in hopes of stopping the execution. All those costs, which can run in the tens of millions of dollars per case, also are the responsibility of taxpayers.
The last execution in Louisiana was in January 2010 of Gerald Bordelon, a sex offender convicted of strangling to death his 12-year-old step daughter in Livingston Parish. Bordelon volunteered. It has been 15 years since Louisiana put to death a convicted murderer who challenged the sentence.
The state has no executions scheduled and even if one was pending, the Department of Corrections has no lethal chemicals on hand to carry out the sentence. Those drugs, primarily manufactured in Europe, are no longer made.
The Legislature would need to change the law to use other methods of execution.
The longest serving death row resident is Michael Perry, who has been awaiting execution for 32 years. Convicted by a Baton Rouge jury of murdering five people, including his parents and an infant, Perry’s case led to a landmark U.S. Supreme Court. The decision set strict guidelines for lethal injection and for physicians, who are sworn “to do no harm”, to forcibly medicate a condemned person with a mental disorder enough to legally allow his execution.