Nearly all of Louisiana death row asks for clemency after governor expresses opposition to executions

Nearly all of Louisiana death row asks for clemency after governor expresses opposition to executions

Nearly all of the people on Louisiana’s death row have asked to convert their prison time into life sentences, after Governor John Bel Edwards recently broke his silence on capital punishment and stated his opposition to executions.

In total, 51 of the state’s 57 people on death row filed petitions with a state parole and pardon board seeking clemency. The decision ultimately rests with the governor, a Democrat, who could convert the inmates’ sentences to life in prison.

"Looking at these cases collectively makes it clear that the system is fundamentally broken," Cecelia Kappel, executive director of the Capital Appeals Project, which helped spearhead the mass appeal, told "These applications show that the same problems of racial disparity, intellectual disability, severe mental illness, trauma, innocence and others repeat over and over in Louisiana’s death penalty cases."

Three-quarters of those on Lousiana death row are men of colour, according to the outlet, reflecting the structural racism experts say is built into the death penalty in America.

“All clemency applications are reviewed by the Louisiana Board of Pardons and Committee on Parole,” a spokesperson for the governor’s office told The Independent.Any applications recommended to the governor by the Board of Pardons and Committee on Parole for gubernatorial approval are reviewed on a case-by-case basis before a final decision is made.”

In March, Governor Edwards, citing his Catholic faith, said he was against capital punishment.

“The death penalty is so final,” he said. “When you make a mistake, you can’t get it back. And we know that mistakes have been made in sentencing people to death.”

He added that it was “fortuitous” the state hasn’t had to carry out any executions during his tenure. Louisiana has only executed two people since 2002.

Thus far, however, lawmakers have ignored Mr Edwards’ calls, and a bill the governor backed during his recent state-of-the-state address died in committee in May.

The governor previously maintained a careful silence on the death penalty, making his newfound outspokenness all the more notable.

The rare Democratic governor in the South, Mr Edwards previously avoided taking a hard position on the matter, which put him in a tricky position as a member of a long-time Louisiana law enforcement family, and as a Catholic.

The Catholic Church opposes execution, and parts of Louisiana have large Roman Catholic populations.

A mass commutation has some precedent.

In the earlier 2000s, then-Illinois Governor George Ryan commuted every person on state death row to a life sentence, citing the results of a state commission that found the administration of the death penalty in Illinois had been “fraught with error.”

As The Independent has reported, revelations of widespread Chicago police coercion, abuse, and even torture of accused criminals were coming to light at that time, raising serious doubts about the integrity of capital convictions from previous decades.

The state of Louisiana has executed 28 people since the death penalty was reinstated in the 1970s, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

The Independent and the nonprofit Responsible Business Initiative for Justice (RBIJ) have launched a joint campaign calling for an end to the death penalty in the US. The RBIJ has attracted more than 150 well-known signatories to their Business Leaders Declaration Against the Death Penalty - with The Independent as the latest on the list. We join high-profile executives like Ariana Huffington, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, and Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson as part of this initiative and are making a pledge to highlight the injustices of the death penalty in our coverage.