Louisiana’s Catholic Governor John Bel Edwards is term-limited this year and will soon leave his post as governor, but he’s making a big impact on the state’s death penalty before he goes.
In June 2023, 56 of the 57 individuals on Louisiana's death row filed applications for clemency en masse. All of the applications had the same request: commute the sentence from death to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The Louisiana Board of Pardons returned all 56 applications without review. Without a recommendation from the Board of Pardons, the governor does not have the authority to grant clemency.
However, the governor does have the authority to request that the board hear a case — or in this instance, many cases.
On August 9, 2023, Gov. Edwards made that exact request.
Within a day, the board scheduled hearings for 20 of the 56 people who had applied for clemency. It still remains to be seen if the other 36 will receive a hearing before the governor’s term is up.
Advocates are urging the board to recommend commutations for all 56 individuals, clearing the way for the Governor to commute the state’s death row (apart from the one individual who did not apply for clemency).
In April 2023, Gov. Edwards publicly announced for the first time that he was opposed to capital punishment. He cited his Catholic faith and Louisiana’s identity as a “pro-life state” as reasons for his opposition.
He called for its abolition in Louisiana, but left little time for that to be accomplished before the end of his term.
An abolition bill was proposed in the state legislature, but failed, as it has for many years now. This effort to commute the state’s death row may be the last chance for Gov. Edwards to make effective change for Louisiana’s death row.