Support for death penalty declining
Is the death penalty losing support in Louisiana? The statistics indicate that it is, but there are still strong advocates who have effectively killed efforts to abolish the death penalty.
Louisiana is one of 31 states where the death penalty is permitted, according to a recent report in The Advocate. The newspaper said there is an ongoing state and national debate about the potential “for grave and irreversible errors when allowing executions.”
Only one person was sentenced to the death penalty in Louisiana in 2018, and there were no death sentences in 2016 and 2017. The Death Penalty Information Center said what is happening in this state mirrors what is happening around the country. There were 42 death sentences imposed nationwide in 2018, which is an 85 percent decline since the mid-1990s.
Robert Dunham, executive director of the center, said people are realizing wrongful convictions are real and can result in innocent people being sentenced to death.
Opposition from the Catholic Church is also a factor. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops have called for an end to the death penalty. Pope Francis also changed the Catechism to declare it unacceptable.
Getting the drugs necessary for carrying out the death penalty is also a problem. The Gov. John Bel Edwards administration requested and obtained a federal court order prohibiting executions until next year because of the drug situation.
State Attorney General Jeff Landry, who has tangled with Edwards over a number of issues, accused the governor of dragging his feet. Landry said other states have found ways to get the drugs and other ways to execute prisoners. However, the public is generally not in favor of other methods advocated by Landry such as hanging, firing squads and the electric chair.
Research shows that more than half of all death sentences have come from fewer than 2 percent of counties in the United States. Dunham said Louisiana death sentences are concentrated in East Baton Rouge and Caddo parishes.
Louisiana legislators have grappled with the death penalty issue a number of times, and it is expected to be the subject of future legislation. Abolition of the death penalty in Louisiana is probably still a long shot, but it will be interesting to see how much citizens’ views have changed over the years.