While Louisiana’s attorney general fights to see executions resume in the state, legislation to end a delay on capital punishment remains absent.
The state has not put an inmate to death since 2010, and 72 offenders remain on death row. Attorney General Jeff Landry has urged that performing executions again would lend justice to victims’ families, while helping curb homicide rates.
“The only thing we know that can prevent people from committing these crimes is a deterrent,” Landry said in an interview. “The death penalty is a deterrent.”
The stall leaves the Republican attorney general at odds with Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards. The governor and state corrections officials argue that hurdles cloud Louisiana’s ability to perform executions again. The state’s only legal form of execution is lethal injection, and Edwards has claimed that drug companies remain unwilling to provide ingredients.
“The fact of the matter is that we cannot execute someone in the state of Louisiana today because the only legally prescribed manner set forth in the state statute is unavailable,” Edwards said in a statement Tuesday. “That’s not through the fault of my own or the Department of Corrections.”
Amid the drug shortage, one Republican lawmaker has suggested that Angola prison compound its own drugs on site — or use other pharmaceuticals instead.
”Tomorrow, we could conduct an execution through lethal injection by just going to the crime lab, picking up some fentanyl and using it,” state Rep. Tony Bacala (R-Prairieville) said at a House criminal justice hearing Tuesday.
“No particular drug is required,” Landry wrote in a tweet to BRProud.com’s Harrison Golden. “If you had an electric air pump, a hand pump and a pressurized air tank all available to air up your tire, you wouldn’t sit around telling people you couldn’t fill the tire.”
The idea of using fentanyl for executions faces criticism from the Edwards administration. State prison leaders argue that if they use any drug for purposes other than treatment without notifying sellers first, ties with pharmaceutical companies could dissolve.
”No one in the [Department of Corrections] system would be able to get any kind of pain medication if a drug company decided that would be too risky, because the state might use them for executions,” criminal defense attorney Kathryn Sheely said.
Drugmakers have hesitated to associate their brands with capital punishment. Since Louisiana’s purchases of lethal injection drugs are subject to public inquiry, pharmaceutical companies have refused to sell their deadly chemicals to the state’s prison system, fearing ill publicity. Troubles with buying such drugs prompted a federal judge to halt all state executions until July.
Lawmakers could propose a bill to keep sales of lethal injection chemicals secret. As of this week, no legislators have done so this year.
The Legislature could also consider enabling other execution methods, including gas chambers, hangings and firing squads. So far this year, no lawmakers have introduced such measures.
Edwards has declined to say whether he favors or opposes capital punishment, though he has voiced intent to uphold existing state laws.
”I’m not inclined to go back to methods that have been discarded because popular sentiment turned against them or maybe some methods were deemed to be barbaric,” the governor said in a statement this week.
Landry accused Edwards of dismissing suggestions from those who support capital punishment.
”This is hot air the governor is blowing,” Landry said. “The only way to not get it done is to not want to get it done.”
Some in state government are eyeing a permanent end to Louisiana’s death penalty. State Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge) plans to file a bill to abolish the practice. State Rep. Terry Landry (D-New Iberia), a former Louisiana State Police superintendent, intends to guide the measure in the lower chamber. Similar legislation has failed to win support over the past two years.
”I’ve found that sometimes the best legislation takes several years to pass,” Landry said last year.
Louisiana lawmakers still have a chance to propose bills this year regarding capital punishment. Their annual legislative session starts April 8.