BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Seven years after Louisiana's last execution, a trio of state legislators with law enforcement backgrounds is suggesting the tough-on-crime state should quit sentencing people to death.
The proposal would eliminate the death penalty as a punishment for any offenses committed on or after Aug. 1. The ban likely faces tough odds in the conservative Legislature, but its bipartisan coalition of sponsors with law-and-order credentials has sparked interest.
Bill sponsor Sen. Dan Claitor, a Baton Rouge Republican and former criminal prosecutor, said the death penalty has failed to deter criminal activity in Louisiana — but he said life imprisonment is a just punishment that equally protects society.
He also cites moral objections because of his Catholic faith.
"Life, both at the beginning and at the end, must be my primary consideration as a Catholic legislator. I take this moral impetus seriously," Claitor said in a statement.
The sponsor of an identical measure in the House also is a Catholic. Rep. Terry Landry, a New Iberia Democrat and retired superintendent of the Louisiana State Police, said he once supported the death penalty, having "seen the worst of the worst" as a state trooper.
But Landry said taxpayers foot the bill for costly death penalty appeals, an expense that he said he can no longer justify. He said too many death sentences have been overturned around the country because of problems with the cases.
"I think it's a process past it's time. I think it's barbaric," Landry said Friday. "Life without parole, to me that's maybe worse than death."
Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, hasn't taken a position on banning capital punishment.
Thirty-one states allow the death penalty. Louisiana's last execution was in January 2010. Seventy-three men and one woman sentenced to death await execution in Louisiana, but the state's next planned lethal injection is on hold until at least 2018 pending a federal lawsuit challenging the method.
Even if that case wasn't stalling it, Louisiana has no drugs for an execution.
"A lot of the pharmaceutical companies are not selling the drugs that states are using to execute. They say that's not why they're producing the drugs," Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc told a House budget committee.
Republican Rep. Steve Pylant still supports capital punishment, even though he's co-sponsoring Landry's bill. But the retired Franklin Parish sheriff said it makes no sense for Louisiana to pay up to $10 million annually on public defense teams for death penalty cases involving people without the money to cover their own attorney costs.
"I think certain crimes should be punishable by death," Pylant said. "But the fact is we're not enforcing it. We spend millions of dollars on death penalty appeals, and we claim we can't get the medicines to do it."
He added: "Whether you're for capital punishment or not, it seems like at some point common sense ought to take hold."
Pylant doubts the death penalty ban can pass. But he said it could draw attention to the problem with the current system, where Louisiana has a penalty on the books it seems unable to enforce.
Rep. Jack McFarland, a Winnfield Republican, encouraged the corrections department to look for alternatives to lethal injection for executions.
"If you've done something heinous enough to be judged by a jury of your peers that you deserve the death penalty for it, then I believe that death penalty is what you deserve," McFarland said in an interview. "There's no need to change it now."
Online: Senate Bill 142 and House Bill 101: www.legis.la.gov
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Posted on Tue, April 18, 2017
by By MELINDA DESLATTE