Nearly all La.'s death row inmates ask gov. for clemency on the same day
The 51 clemency applications came after a bill to abolish the death penalty failed during Louisiana’s legislative session
By Sara Cline
BATON ROUGE, La. — Nearly all of Louisiana’s death row inmates asked on Tuesday for term-limited Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards to spare their lives and grant them clemency — changing their punishment from the death penalty to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
The 51 clemency applications came after a bill to abolish the death penalty failed during Louisiana’s legislative session, which adjourned Thursday. Over the spring, Edwards — who is unable to seek reelection this year due to consecutive term limits, opening a huge opportunity for Republicans to win the seat in a reliably red state — voiced his support, for the first time, to eliminate capital punishment. He urged lawmakers to get rid of the death penalty, saying it was “inconsistent with Louisiana’s pro-life values, as it quite literally promotes a culture of death.”
Cecelia Kappel, the executive director of the Louisiana Capital Appeals Project and an attorney for several of the prisoners who have filed clemency applications, said in Tuesday’s press release that there are “systemic flaws” to the death penalty in Louisiana. She cited racial disparity, death-sentenced prisoners with evidence of intellectual disability and “prosecutorial misconduct” that has resulted in inmates being exonerated in recent years.
“Louisiana cannot get the death penalty right,” Kappel said in the press release. “Looking at these cases collectively makes it clear that the system is fundamentally broken.”
Eric Holl, a spokesperson for Edwards, said that all clemency applications are reviewed by the Louisiana Board of Pardons and Committee on Parole. Any applications recommended to the governor by the board members — all of whom were appointed by Edwards — are “reviewed on a case-by-case basis before a final decision is made.”
Only two clemency requests have been granted by Louisiana governors since the state instated the death penalty in the 1970s, according to The Advocate, which first reported on Tuesday’s filings.
Currently, 60 people sit on Louisiana’s death row, the Louisiana Department of Public Safety & Corrections told The Associated Press in late May.
Louisiana has held 28 executions since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. But the last lethal injection was in January 2010 when the state executed Gerald Bordelon — a convicted sex offender who confessed to strangling his 12-year-old stepdaughter and waived an appeal.
Currently there are no execution dates set, according to the department of corrections.
However, other states are proceeding with capital punishment. Twenty-seven states have the death penalty, and last year 18 inmates were executed, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center.
In addition, a handful of states are seeking to reinstate other execution methods — such as firing squads — as an alternative to lethal injections, after pharmaceutical companies barred the use of their drugs.
Death penalty opponents in Louisiana argue the punishment should be eliminated due to the cost of executions, religious beliefs and racial disparities. A disproportionate three-quarters of Louisiana death row prisoners are people of color, according to the Capital Appeals Project.
Critics also note that Louisiana has had frequent exonerations. Between 2010 and 2020, 22 inmates sentenced to death had their sentences reduced or were exonerated, according to the corrections department.
Those who opposed the failed bill to ban the death penalty, advocated for justice for the families of victims who believe it is the appropriate punishment for certain crimes.