Governor Slams 'Absurd' Reason for Rebuffing Death-Row Inmates

Louisiana's John Bel Edwards asks pardons board to commute death sentences for 56 prisoners
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 3, 2023 12:40 PM CDT
Updated Aug 10, 2023 9:15 AM CDT
Louisiana Inmates Race Against Time to Avoid Execution
The Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola is seen in West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana.   (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)
UPDATE Aug 10, 2023 9:15 AM CDT

A mass petition from 56 Louisiana inmates seeking commutations from their death sentences has seemingly made its way to Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, who this week sent a letter to the state's Board of Pardons to ask for movement on this front. Per the Louisiana Radio Network, the pardons panel and Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry had balked at granting clemency, citing a rule that bars such requests more than a year after a defendant's last appeal was denied. In his Wednesday letter, Bel Edwards calls that interpretation of the guidelines "absurd and illogical" and notes that over the past two decades, there have been six exonerations and 50-plus reversals of capital cases. "There are still many more questions than answers" on the death penalty, he writes. Per KTBS, the pardon board's next meeting is Monday, though it's not clear whether this is on the agenda.

Aug 3, 2023 12:40 PM CDT

Inmates on death row in Louisiana, aware that they could be running out of time, have filed a mass petition to have their death sentences commuted to life without parole before term-limited Gov. John Bel Edwards leaves office. The Democrat openly declared his opposition to the death penalty in March, but Jeff Landry, the state's Republican attorney general, is among the leading candidates to replace him in the October election, the Guardian reports. Fifty-six of the 57 death row inmates in the state—55 men and one woman—have petitioned Edwards to order the state's Board of Pardons to consider clemency. Louisiana has only executed one person since 2002—Gerald Bordelon, who waived his appeals and was executed in 2010 for the murder of his 12-year-old stepdaughter.

Landry, however, is a strong supporter of the death penalty and has said he will resume executions next year if elected. He has suggested bringing back firing squads or the electric chair if the shortage of drugs for lethal injections continues. The mass petition for clemency was filed shortly after an Edwards-supported bill to abolish the death penalty failed in June. Landry dealt the effort a blow last month when his office ruled that the pardons board couldn't take up the requests because of procedural issues, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports.

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Landry's office said the board couldn't bypass a rule that states it can't consider requests made more than a year after a judge issues an appeal ruling. Advocacy groups called the ruling, which forced the board to set aside all 56 requests, "improper and disingenuous," per the Guardian. The mass petition was organized by the anti-death penalty group Capital Appeals Project. Some 67% of death row inmates in the state are Black, while serial killer Ronald Dominique, a white man known as the Bayou Strangler, wasn't sentenced to death despite have killed at least 23 men and boys, most of them Black, in a killing spree that lasted until 2006, the group says. The group also notes that some 83% of the death sentences imposed in Louisiana since 1976 have been reversed. (More Louisiana stories.)

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