BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — For the fifth time in six years, Louisiana lawmakers have blocked attempts to abolish the state’s death penalty.
Despite a new push by Democratic Gov. John Bel and testimony of proponents from all walks of life — exonerated death row inmates, religious leaders, a judge, family members of murder victims and other members of the public — a GOP-controlled legislative committee voted 11-4 Wednesday against a bill to repeal the state’s longstanding death penalty.
Louisiana has held 28 executions since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. The last lethal injection was in January 2010, when the state executed Gerald Bordelon, a convicted sex offender who confessed to strangling his 12-year-old stepdaughter and waived an appeal.
Sixty people sit on Louisiana’s death row, with no execution dates set, according to the Louisiana Department of Public Safety & Corrections.
Death penalty opponents argue that it should be eliminated due to the cost of executions, racial disparities and religious beliefs. Critics also note that Louisiana has had frequent exonerations. Between 2010 and 2020, 22 inmates sentenced to death had those sentences reduced or were exonerated, according to the corrections department.
Among those exonerated is Shareef Cousin, who was convicted of murder in New Orleans in 1996 at 16 years old. He became one of the youngest people in the nation condemned to death row at the time. Cousin served several years on death row at Angola, Louisiana’s notorious state penitentiary. His conviction was later reversed after the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled prosecutors mishandled Cousin’s case.
“Ask yourselves, if any one of your children was put in a position where they were accused of something they did not commit, what would your position be?” Cousin told the legislative committee.
Ross Foote, a retired district judge, said he fears that there may have been cases in which an innocent person has wrongfully been sentenced to death and executed.
“You can have miscarriages of justice and the finality of the execution makes me shudder,” he told lawmakers.
Abolishing the death penalty in Louisiana was a newfound priority this legislative session for Edwards, who is unable to run for reelection this year due to term limits.
Edwards recently said that the penalty is “inconsistent with Louisiana’s pro-life values, as it quite literally promotes a culture of death,” referring to the fact that the state has a near-total abortion ban.
Those against the bill advocated for justice for the families of victims who believe it is the appropriate punishment for certain crimes. Critics of the stalled executions described prosecutors frustrated by lengthy legal battles that surround the pursuit of a successful death sentence.
Twenty-seven states have the death penalty, and 18 inmates were executed last year across the country, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center.