Conservative death penalty opponents gathered in New Orleans on Friday for two days of discussions on how best to convince their political allies in Louisiana and other right-leaning states that capital punishment should be abolished.
The organization, Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, which has been lobbying against capital punishment for several years, billed the gathering as its first national meeting. With about 25 participants from two dozen states, it was taking place in a state where lawmakers overwhelmingly defeated the latest attempt, in May, to abolish executions.
But national manager Hannah Cox said the organization believes Louisiana can eventually be moved to join 21 other states that have abolished or overturned the death penalty. She noted the state's large Catholic population and the pope's declaration last year that capital punishment is "inadmissible" in all cases, as well as a strong anti-abortion movement whose participants could be convinced that a "pro-life" movement should include opposition to executions.
She says the organization also sees capital punishment opposition growing in conservative states such as Utah and Wyoming, where a death penalty repeal bill narrowly failed this year. The group has since announced plans to hire a Wyoming field director to aid in grassroots efforts to repeal the state's rarely used death penalty.
"This is a failed big government program," Cox said of capital punishment. She noted the numerous examples of death row inmates who have been exonerated and the costs of extensive legal proceedings needed to carry out executions — money the organization argues could be better spent trying to enforce the law and solve crimes.
In Louisiana, a legislative effort to end the death penalty failed overwhelmingly in the Senate, despite its sponsorship by Sen. Dan Claitor, a Republican former prosecutor. The state last executed someone in 2010. Death sentences have been stalled because the corrections department has been unable to find companies willing to provide lethal injection drugs: The companies don't want their products associated with executions.
In debates this year and in years past, death penalty proponents have pushed back against religious and moral arguments from death penalty opponents, citing biblical passages calling for death sentences and arguing that taking the option off the table deprives prosecutors of a crime-fighting tool and survivors of homicide victims a measure of justice.
During the Senate debate in May, Sen. Gerald Long, a Natchitoches Republican who opposed Claitor's measure, said Louisiana uses the punishment rarely and includes a lengthy appeals process to review cases before anyone is executed.
"It seems our legal system provides a number of checks and balances," he said.