Victimized twice. That’s what it must have felt like for family members who lost loved ones to violence who testified before the House Criminal Justice Committee last week. Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, a Republican, orchestrated the hearing on the death penalty, inviting mostly victims' families. Louisiana has not carried out an execution since 2010.
“In Louisiana, death row doesn’t mean death row anymore. It’s been nine years since our last execution. For those of us that revere the rule of law and believe in justice, this is unacceptable. I suspect many of you feel the same,” Landry told families at the hearing.
By any objective viewpoint, it’s hard to reach Dan Fagan’s conclusion that Louisiana is “chasing business away” (The Advocate, March 10).
Todd Wessinger is the perfect example of a death row inmate who should have been executed long ago. Wessinger shot and killed two employees at the now-closed Calendar's restaurant during a robbery in Baton Rouge 23 years ago. Wessinger also shot a third employee in the back, but that worker survived. Wessinger's gun jammed when he tried to shoot a fourth employee in the head.
A psychiatrist testified Wessinger admitted to shooting at least three people. Eyewitnesses identified Wessinger as the shooter, and police recovered the murder weapon. Witnesses also testified Wessinger bragged about the shootings after the fact.
There’s a myth that big business has disproportionate influence with government. Not in Louisiana.
Stephanie Guzzardo, 27 at the time and restaurant manager, was one of Wessinger’s murder victims. Guzzardo’s father, Wayne Guzzardo, testified at last week’s hearing. He blames Gov. John Bel Edwards for being excuse-oriented when it comes to not taking action on executing Louisiana’s death row inmates.
“We miss Stephanie very much and think of her every day. The governor can say whatever he wants. He can blame whoever he wants. He can go behind every door he wants to, but the buck stops with him. He’s got to generate it,” said Guzzardo.
Edwards refuses to say whether he favors the death penalty. That does not sit well with Guzzardo.
“He’s never been transparent for us victims, never, and always pulling something we don’t know anything about. And where’s the justice for my daughter and the rest of these victims? It’s ridiculous,” said Guzzardo.
In another case 28 years ago, death row inmate Scott Jude Bourque severely injured Theresa Chataignier and killed her daughter, Charlotte Perry. Perry was an estranged girlfriend of Bourque.
“Louisiana law should not allow anyone under a sentence of death to have that sentence delayed for such an unusual amount of time,” said Chataignier.
And then there’s the case of death row inmate Nathaniel Code Jr. who terrorized and murdered four people in their Shreveport home almost 35 years ago. Albert Culbert Jr. lost his sister’s wife, a niece and brother in the shootings.
“After so many years, why is nothing being done?” Culbert Jr. asked the committee.
"Why are not the people who are sitting on death row, who have wronged our families, who have gone through the justice system, who have been found guilty of these heinous crimes, why are they not being executed?" said Landry.
New Orleans Rep. John Bagneris, a Democrat, seemed unmoved by the dramatic and heart-felt testimony from the families of murder victims at the hands of death row inmates. The House Criminal Justice Committee member claimed a life sentence is still a harsh punishment for those on death row.
“If you execute that person, you are just freeing them. You are freeing them from what they have done. Sitting in a jail cell is a punishment. It’s a heck of a punishment,” said Bagneris.
Edwards blames the nearly decade-long hiatus in Louisiana executions on pharmaceutical companies refusing to sell drug compounds required for lethal injections, the state’s only legal form of execution.
“The drugs are not available, and legislation has not passed to address concerns of drug companies or offer alternative forms of execution,” Edwards said.
But legislators can change the law and allow for other methods of execution. Other death penalty states executed 22 inmates last year. Landry says it’s time for the governor and legislators to act and bring back executions to Louisiana.
“I support the rule of law, and if the Legislature spells out whether it be by firing squad, hanging, lethal injection or gas,” Landry said.
Email Dan Fagan at email@example.com. Twitter: @DanFaganShow.