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Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry chats with family members of victims during a hearing on the future of the death penalty in Louisiana.

On the day California Gov. Gavin Newsom made international headlines by ordering a moratorium on executions in his state, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry led his own death penalty discussion before the state House criminal justice committee. Newsom’s action was a bold statement; Landry’s was a cheap stunt.

Landry said his presentation was a way to spotlight victims’ families and “delayed justice,” as Louisiana has not executed any convicted murderers since 2010. There are reasons for that, reasons that have nothing to do with being pro- or anti-death penalty.

First: Louisiana can’t carry out executions right now because the drugs aren’t available, a situation that began under former Gov. Bobby Jindal and continues today under Gov. John Bel Edwards. As the tide turns against the death penalty in America, drug companies simply don’t want to be associated with it. Louisiana law requires that the source of such drugs be made public. Other states facing the same dilemma have explored alternative methods of execution — suffocation by nitrogen poisoning, the electric chair, even firing squads — but they haven’t made much headway.

Second: In July 2018, a federal judge halted executions in Louisiana until a lawsuit challenging lethal injection could be settled. That halt ends this summer, but little has changed.

Third: In the eight years since Louisiana’s last execution, even some law-and-order, conservative lawmakers in Louisiana have rethought the death penalty. Some cite costs (it’s more expensive to execute a prisoner than to house one), while others have moral objections ranging from racial disparities in carrying out the death penalty to high-profile cases in which a death row prisoner was later exonerated when new evidence came to light.

One person wrongly put to death is one too many — but a 2016 Gambit cover story reported on 58 death row prisoners since 2000 whose sentences have been overturned.

That, along with other reasons, is why state Sen. Dan Claitor, a Baton Rouge Republican, and state Rep. Terry Landry (no relation to the AG), a New Iberia Democrat who formerly led the Louisiana State Police, plan to file legislation that would outlaw the death penalty in Louisiana. There’s little likelihood it will pass, but anti-death penalty bills have become a staple of legislative sessions in recent years. This issue will not go away.

 AG Landry’s presentation, critics rightly pointed out, was tilted entirely toward pro-death penalty voices (those against it were relegated to the public comments afterward). Neither Edwards nor Secretary of Corrections Jimmy LeBlanc were invited to participate. Worse, Landry later said on WWL radio that the death penalty should be reserved for crimes like “aggravated robbery” — which doesn’t even exist in Louisiana law. Armed robbery carries a lengthy sentence, but it is not and cannot be a capital offense. How sad that Louisiana’s chief legal officer doesn’t even know the basics of criminal law.

After the hearing, Edwards said in a statement, “We cannot execute someone in the state of Louisiana today because the only legally prescribed manner set forth in state statute is unavailable to us. In the time since we last had this conversation, nothing has changed.”

Indeed, nothing has changed: Jeff Landry remains a shameless, ignorant demagogue.

This is a commentary from Gambit, produced independently from reporters at the paper.