Louisiana AG pushes lawmakers to resume executions

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BATON ROUGE, LA – Louisiana lawmakers heard hours of testimony Tuesday, in the state attorney general’s quest to resume capital punishment.

Attorney General Jeff Landry initiated the discussion among a state House criminal justice committee. He and panel members invited relatives of murder victims, whose killers remain on death row decades after the crimes.

“After so many years, why is nothing being done?” asked Albert Culbert Jr., who lost several relatives in a 1985 homicide.

“Where is justice for my daughter and other families out there?” asked Wayne Guzzardo, whose daughter Stephanie was killed in 1995. “This is ridiculous.”

“Louisiana law should not allow anyone under a sentence of death to have that sentence delayed for such an unusual amount of time,” said Theresa Chataignier, whose daughter Charlotte Perry was killed in 1990.

The state last performed an execution in 2010. Landry claims the long wait has been unfair to victims’ families.

“In Louisiana, death row doesn’t mean death row anymore,” he said. “We have a major problem in our criminal justice system.”

The attorney general suggested that state lawmakers may have to consider permitting other kinds of capital punishment.

“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.

But Gov. John Bel Edwards and state corrections officials say resuming executions is not as simple as Landry thinks. The Governor’s Office claims pharmaceutical companies have refused to sell the state any 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 in a statement. “I’m not inclined to go back to methods that have been discarded because popular sentiment turned against them.”

Lawmakers could pass legislation to let pharmaceutical companies sell execution drugs in secret. Under current state law, information regarding such sales is publicly accessible, which has deterred companies from offering their items.

Edwards has declined to say publicly whether he supports or opposes the death penalty.

No officials from the Governor’s Office, nor from the state’s Department of Public Safety and Corrections, were invited to Tuesday’s hearing.

Opponents of capital punishment accused Landry, as well as Republican criminal justice committee leaders, of snubbing those with different views. Rep. Ted James (D-Baton Rouge) called Tuesday’s gathering a “pep rally” for death penalty supporters.

“I think the hearing today has gotten a little twisted,” Rep. C. Denise Marcelle (D-Baton Rouge) said. “It seems to be more about blaming someone.”

“Is this a set-up?” Rep. Barbara Norton (D-Shreveport) asked.

Advocates against capital punishment got to speak during a public comment period, toward the end of the hearing.

“Having a death penalty, state-sanctioned murder puts us in a very bad position to tell others that they should not murder people,” said Flozell Daniels, whose son was shot and killed in New Orleans in 2016. “We cannot be God.”

Recent legislative efforts to end Louisiana’s death penalty have not made adequate headway to pass. Opponents of the practice have filed related bills over the past two years, with no success.

State lawmakers still have time to propose changes to capital punishment during this year’s legislative session, which starts April 8.

Leaders in the House’s criminal justice committee may hold additional hearings on the death penalty. Panel chair Rep. Sherman Mack (R-Albany) says he is open to including Edwards and state corrections officials in further discussions.

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