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Sunday, March 24, 2019



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Louisiana lawmakers hear push for restarting executions

Louisiana lawmakers hear push for restarting executions


BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana lawmakers heard hours of testimony at a hearing Tuesday about the state's stalled execution process for death row inmates, but made no headway in deciding whether or how to resume the use of capital punishment.

Attorney General Jeff Landry pushed for the death penalty discussion by the House criminal justice committee, a hearing that was heavily tinged with partisan rancor. He said he wanted to give murder victims' families — several of whom testified in anguished detail — a platform to talk about "delayed justice."

"The families of victims have a right to see justice delivered," said Landry, a Republican seeking re-election this year.

Democratic lawmakers said Landry simply wanted a hearing to attack Gov. John Bel Edwards, who also is on the October ballot. They noted that the Democratic administration, including the corrections department that oversees executions, wasn't asked to attend the discussion and, therefore, didn't show up.

"I think the hearing today has gotten a little twisted. It seems to be more about blaming someone," said Rep. C. Denise Marcelle, a Baton Rouge Democrat.

Louisiana's last execution was in 2010. Seventy condemned inmates are awaiting execution. The Edwards administration says it can't obtain lethal injection drugs because companies don't want to be publicly associated with executions. Republican Former Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration described similar difficulties.

"In the time since we last had this conversation, nothing has changed — 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 after the hearing. "That's not through any fault of my own or the Department of Corrections."

But Landry said Edwards doesn't appear interested in finding ways to carry out the death sentences, noting that other states that use lethal injection continue to execute people. He suggested ways executions could be restarted, ideas the corrections department previously has said aren't workable or require legislation. The next legislative session begins in April.

Family members of murder victims called on Louisiana to resume executions.

Wayne Guzzardo described the 1995 slaying of his daughter Stephanie during a Baton Rouge restaurant robbery. Guzzardo continually called out Edwards and said: "We just want the governor to know we're not going away, none of us are going away."

Albert Culbert Jr. didn't name Edwards specifically as he talked about the murder of his sister, his niece and his brother in Shreveport in 1985. The convicted murderer has been on Louisiana's death row for more than 30 years.

"After so many years, why has nothing been done?" Culbert said repeatedly.

Others testified in opposition to the death penalty in the shorter, public testimony portion of the hearing that wasn't pre-scheduled, describing racial disparities in sentencing and pointing to exonerations of condemned inmates.

Flozell Daniels, whose son was shot and killed in New Orleans in 2016, said the death penalty doesn't deter crime, and he said the state's use of capital punishment has cost the state millions in unnecessary legal fights.

"We cannot be God," Daniels said.

Laverne Thompson talked of the exoneration of her husband John, who narrowly avoided execution before winning his prison release in 2003 after prosecutors were found to have hidden evidence in the case. John Thompson died in 2017.

"The status of Louisiana's death penalty is that it does not respond to our culture of violence, that it makes mistakes," Laverne Thompson said.

The capital punishment dispute between Landry and Edwards, who frequently clash, stems from a July federal court order prohibiting Louisiana from carrying out any death sentences until mid-2019.

The Edwards administration asked for the extension, citing trouble getting lethal injection drugs. In response, Landry's office said it was withdrawing from defending the corrections department against the lawsuit challenging its lethal injection protocols.

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Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte