Earlier this year there was hope that Louisiana would seize an opportunity to commute nearly its entire death row, after 56 of the 57 of those imprisoned on death row filed applications for clemency en masse this June. The historic clemency bid was supported by Catholic Governor John Bel Edwards, who called capital punishment “inconsistent with Louisiana’s pro-life values.”
Commutations may be unlikely now after the Board of Pardons and Committee on Parole voted to deny hearings for five of these clemency applicants on Friday, October 13. These five applications were the only ones to be considered for clemency hearings by the board following a closed door settlement, reached between the board’s lawyer, who was appointed by Attorney General Jeff Landry, and a group of state prosecutors. That lawyer has since been disqualified from representing the board after a district judge found the appointment to be “problematic” and an “end-around” maneuver by AG Landry.
A new complaint has been lodged against the board for its resistance to grant hearings. It remains to be seen whether this new lawsuit will result in any progress towards clemency. Advocates worry that time is running out.
AG Landry, who has called for the return of the firing squad to expedite state executions, won a landslide victory on October 14 to become Louisiana’s next governor. Throughout this effort for clemency, AG Landry has stood in firm opposition.
Though mass clemency in Louisiana appears unlikely, opposition to the death penalty remains strong among faith communities and secular groups in the state. On World Day Against the Death Penalty, recognized on October 10, faith leaders including Sr. Helen Prejean, CSJ, renowned Catholic anti-death penalty advocate and Louisianan, and Most Rev. Michael Duca, Bishop of Baton Rouge, gathered for an anti-death penalty prayer vigil outside the Governor’s Mansion.
In the aftermath of the board’s recent decisions, Catholics across Louisiana will participate in a nine-week novena to pray for an end to the death penalty. The “Novena for Life and Mercy” began on Friday, October 13 and will conclude on Friday, December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Prayer services will be held at various Catholic Churches in New Orleans throughout the nine weeks.