In the Bible Belt, Christmas Isn’t Coming to Death Row

When it comes to the death penalty, guilt or innocence shouldn’t really matter to Christians.  

NASHVILLE — Until August, Tennessee had not put a prisoner to death in nearly a decade. Last Thursday, it performed its third execution in four months.
This was not a surprising turn of events. In each case, recourse to the courts had been exhausted. In each case Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, declined to intervene, though there were many reasons to justify intervening. Billy Ray Irick suffered from psychotic breaks that raised profound doubts about his ability to distinguish right from wrong. Edmund Zagorksi’s behavior in prison was so exemplary that even the warden pleaded for his life. David Earl Miller also suffered from mental illness and was a survivor of child abuse so horrific that he tried to kill himself when he was 6 years old.
Questions about the humanity of Tennessee’s lethal-injection protocol were so pervasive following the execution of Mr. Irick that both Mr. Zagorski and M…

Effort to abolish Louisiana death penalty dies in House committee after bill's original co-sponsor switched vote

BATON ROUGE — An effort to abolish the death penalty in Louisiana died in a House committee Wednesday after one of the bill's original co-sponsors switched his vote.

The bill's failure in the House Criminal Justice Committee signaled that a duplicate measure in the Senate by Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, would suffer the same fate when it arrived, causing him to shelve his effort as well. "Why would I bring a bill (to the Senate floor) that can't get out of this (House) committee?" Claitor said.

Rep. Terry Landry, D-New Iberia, said fellow former lawman Rep. Steve Pylant, R-Winnsboro, didn't warn him that he was voting against the bill. Pylant was the swing vote in the 9-8 decision. "I was surprised," Landry said. "It's not the way I would have conducted my business with a colleague."

But Pylant said he never intended to vote for House Bill 101, but instead co-sponsored the measure so he could get his message out to the public that the state should start executing those who have been given the death penalty.

Pylant has said in previous interviews he believes the death penalty is just, but it shouldn't exist if Louisiana wasn't following through on executions. "There are a few who don't deserve to live," he said.

Louisiana has carried out just one execution in the past 10 years and that was of an inmate who asked that the sentence be carried out.

"I was trying to bring attention to the fact we're not doing it now; I co-sponsored the bill to get the message out that we're not doing it," Pylant said. "I got on line so I could get my message out. We need to either get in the business (of executions) or get out of it."

Landry said he will bring the bill back next year.

"I still fundamentally believe there should be a moratorium on the death penalty," he said."It's cost us too many dollars and too many lives and too many families have been broken up."

Faith leaders like Bishop Shelton Fabre, representing the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops, testified the death penalty is an affront to God. Former death row inmates who were ultimately exonerated like Ray Crone of Arizona also testified in favor of the bill.

"Ending the death penalty is not about public policy or public opinion but because of our belief that all human life is sacred," Fabre said. "It's essential in ending a culture of death and creating a culture of life."

But families of victims testified against the bill, while Louisiana's district attorneys said it's an appropriate tool in the most heinous cases where the jury's conscience has been shocked by the viciousness of a crime.

Edie Triche's son Jeremy Triche, a St. John the Baptist deputy, was murdered in 2012.

"The death penalty will not return my son, but it's simply a matter of justice," she said.

Source: USA Today, Greg Hilburn, May 17, 2017

Death penalty upheld as Louisiana House panel blocks move to abolish it

Louisiana's death chamber
Louisiana's death chamber
A move to abolish the death penalty in Louisiana has been dropped in the Legislature. A House committee on Wednesday (May 17) killed a bill to end capital punishment, dooming a similar bill in the Senate.

The House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice narrowly defeated House Bill 101 by Rep. Terry Landry, D-New Iberia, which would have eliminated the death penalty for all people convicted after Aug. 1 of capital crimes if voters agreed to the abolition. The measure failed on an 8-9 vote.

In light of that decision, Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, is pulling a similar proposal that is pending in the Senate. Claitor's Senate Bill 142 was the same as Landry's bill but did not require a referendum.

"This is the toughest thing I have ever done in my life," said Landry, a former State Police superintendent who also served two years in the military during the Vietnam War.

Neither bill was meant to affect the 73 people already on death row in Louisiana. Both bills would have kept their death sentences in place.

The Louisiana District Attorneys Association, Louisiana Sheriffs Association and Louisiana Chiefs of Police opposed Landry's bill. District Attorney Bridget Dinvaut of St. John the Baptist Parish told the House committee that the bill would affect a capital punishment case she is prosecuting against defendants accused of murdering two sheriff's deputies and wounding two other deputies. One slain deputy's relative also testified.

The Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops supported Landry's bill and had been lobbying legislators for it. Ray Krone, an innocent man who had been on death row in Arizona, also testified for the bill. In 2002, Krone was released from prison after DNA testing showed he hadn't committed the crime that sent him to death row.

Landry's bill failed in part because Rep. Steve Pylant, R-Winnsboro, surprisingly voted against it. Pylant, a former Franklin Parish sheriff, was listed on the Legislature's website as a co-sponsor of the bill. Had he voted for the bill, it would have passed the committee to move to the full House, and Claitor might have moved forward with his Senate bill.

Pylant spoke in support of Claitor's bill in a Senate committee April 25, and he has given several news media interviews where he explained why he was co-sponsoring Landry's legislation. "I think certain crimes should be punishable by death," Pylant told The Associated Press in April. "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. ... Whether you're for capital punishment or not, it seems like at some point common sense ought to take hold.

In an interview Wednesday, Pylant repeated those sentiments. But he said he got involved with Landry's legislation only to bring attention to the fact that Louisiana isn't executing people quickly enough. "If I hadn't put my name on it, you wouldn't be out here talking to me," Pylant told reporters after the vote.

Louisiana has executed only one person since 2002. Gerald Bordelon had waived his right to more appeals in 2010 and was executed then.

The death penalty is expensive: Louisiana spends $9 million to $10 million annually on defense counsel for Louisiana's 73 inmates sentenced to death. That doesn't count the costs for prosecutors and courts -- or local parish expenditures on capital defense.

Pylant said Louisiana could be executing more people if officials prioritized it. He pointed out that Arkansas executed four people in eight days in April.

Arkansas initially scheduled eight executions in April, before the drugs it used to kill people were to expire, but four executions were put on hold by legal challenges. Louisiana, Arkansas and several other states are having trouble acquiring drugs for lethal injection because the drug companies no longer want to sell them to state for capital punishment.

"We say we can't get the drugs to execute with. Arkansas has executed four or five people in the last month," Pylant said. "So something's not right. The powers that be apparently don't have the will to carry out the executions."

Claitor's bill to abolish the death penalty won 6-1 backing from a Senate committee only hours after the first Arkansas' execution took place. And Pylant became a co-sponsor on Landry's legislation well before any of the Arkansas executions took place.

Pylant said what happened in Arkansas didn't influence his vote on Landry's bill on Wednesday or change his position. But he returned to the Arkansas executions more than once in an interview.

"We need to start executing people," he said. "They said we can't get the pharmaceuticals. Well, why can other people get them when we can't?"

"We don't want to give the lethal injection? Well, we've got firing squads. We've got the electric chair. We've got other things," he said.

If Louisiana wanted to use a method other than lethal injection to carry out executions, it would require a change to the law. No lawmaker in 2017 brought legislation to change the method.

Here's how the committee voted Wednesday:

Abolish death penalty

John Bagneris, D-New Orleans
Barbara Carpenter, D-Baton Rouge
Randal Gaines, D-LaPlace
Ted James, D-Baton Rouge
Terry Landry, D-New Iberia
Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge
Joe Marino, no party-Gretna
John Stefanski, R-Crowley

Against abolition

Tony Bacala, R-Prairieville
Raymond Crews, R-Bossier City
Stephen Dwight, R-Lake Charles
Chris Hazel, R-Pineville
Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs
Frank Howard, R-Many
Sherman Mack, R-Albany
Barbara Norton, D-Shreveport
Steve Pylant, R-Winnsboro.

Source: The Times-Picayune (nola.com), Julia O'Donoghue, May 18, 2017

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