All 56 Louisiana death row clemency petitions turned away for being ineligible

After nearly every death row inmate in Louisiana asked for clemency en masse, the state’s pardon board turned away all 56 petitions this week.

Francis Abbott, executive director of Louisiana’s Board of Pardons and Committee on Parole, confirmed to The Associated Press on Friday that none of the applicants are currently eligible. That decision was based on an opinion filed last week by Attorney General Jeff Landry, a Republican and gubernatorial candidate, who found that the board can’t waive a policy requiring a clemency petition to be filed within a year of a judge ruling on an appeal, as reported by The Advocate.

Exceptions are allowed in some extenuating circumstances, notably if an execution date is near. However, Louisiana does not have any execution dates scheduled and the last lethal injection in the state occurred over a decade ago.

“Louisiana was failed by our appointed officials this week,” Promise of Justice Initiative, a New Orleans-based organization, said in a press release urging Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards to step in and set hearings for the clemency petitions. “The State has been given a chance to commute death row to life sentences. Louisiana can still choose life over death, dignity over violence. To choose right over wrong.”

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.”

The bill to abolish the death penalty failed during Louisiana’s legislative session, which ended in June. The 56 clemency petitions were filed shortly after in June. The death row prisoners asked for their punishments to be changed from death penalty to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

Cecelia Kappel, the executive director of the Louisiana Capital Appeals Project and an attorney for several of the prisoners, said 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.

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,” said Eric Holl, a spokesperson for the governor’s office.

However, the board never conducted hearings on the applications, returning them after an administrative screening, The Advocate reported. Whether or not the governor will direct the board to hear the cases remains to be determined.

Only two clemency requests have been granted by Louisiana governors since the state instated the death penalty in the 1970s. Louisiana has held 28 executions since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

Sixty people sit on Louisiana’s death row, the Louisiana Department of Public Safety & Corrections told The Associated Press in late May.

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