Effort to repeal death penalty fails

BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) – A renewed push to repeal the death penalty in Louisiana moved some senators, but the votes weren’t there. Hours of testimony show the split of how voters feel on the issue.

SB294 looked to repeal the death penalty and put the saved expenses towards early childhood education. It seems the topic of capital punishment comes up in the legislature every few years, but this hearing had senators admitting it was a much harder, and closer, decision than in the past.

Testimony spanned hours from people sharing their personal connections to the death penalty – and how their faith tells them not to take a life. Others talked about how people should pay the ultimate price for heinous crimes.

“We feel the possible impact positively or negatively on what we’re doing,” said Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton.

A man by the name of Shareef Cousin spent three years on death row after being accused of murder at 16. After the U.S. Supreme Court deemed that children could not be sentenced to death, he later was found innocent of the crime he was accused of. Eleven people in Louisiana’s history have been exonerated from death row. Cousin said there are many more out there on death row who could be innocent due to flaws in the judicial system.

“You won’t feel the impact, whether positive or negative, if it’s not happening to your family,” Cousin said.

Sen. Katrina Jackson told the committee her religion tells her the death penalty is not right. A group of catholic religious leaders joined her in the audience including Sister Helen Prejean, who is best known for her book that was turned into the movie Dead Man Walking.

“Because there is a human value here that we don’t discuss much… true human value is the person who is sitting on death row and is innocent, true human value in what we’ve done [to] execute people in this state,” said Sen. Jackson, D-Monroe.

Sen. Bodi White pushed back on the bill, stating people should get justice for their loved ones who were victims of the crime.

On average, a person will wait on death row in the state for 17.5 years. There has not been an execution in the state since 2010. Louisiana can’t access the drugs for lethal injection to carry them out, so people wait and continue to be charged with a punishment that can’t be fulfilled. A representative from the Louisiana Attorney General’s office said there could be other ways used in surrounding states that could be adopted. Some states use a firing squad, gas chambers, or electrocution.

Lawmakers said their minds could be changed in the future, but now they can’t vote for it.

“It took time for these people to make their decision. At this point I cannot vote for this bill, I’m going to have to vote against it,” said Sen. Mark Abraham, R-Lake Charles. “But it’s not to say that in the future, just like time changed the opinions of what I just quoted, it might change my opinion in the future.”

There’s another bill on the House side that also looks to repeal the death penalty but would have to go through this exact same committee to be passed on to the governor. It is not clear how the bill will play out or if it will be pulled from the calendar this year.