BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — The Louisiana Board of Pardons had a round of “administrative review hearings” for five death row inmates Friday morning, as a recent settlement agreement outlined.

Louisiana District Attorneys Association Executive Director Loren Lampert said preliminary hearings require four affirmative votes to recommend any of the five applications for a full clemency hearing. In addition, he said, a recommended hearing would require a minimum 60-day delay.

Lampert said more “litigation in the pipeline” won’t affect Friday’s hearings.

“Louisiana District Attorneys stand ready to defend against those attacks upon the settled and legal procedures that the Board is currently employing to best ensure full, fair and deliberate due process for all involved,” he said Thursday in a news release.

On June 13, 56 Louisiana death row inmates filed clemency applications. District attorneys spoke out at a July pardon board meeting with concerns that the process is being rushed. Gov. John Bel Edwards wrote a letter Aug. 9 asking the board to set hearings, which they did the following day. Hearings were scheduled for Oct. 13, Nov. 8, Nov. 27 and Dec. 8.

Oct. 13 hearings for five death row inmates

Antoinette Frank, the only woman on Louisiana’s death row and a former New Orleans police officer, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death in a 1995 restaurant robbery gone wrong that left three dead.

A letter of support for Frank from organizations and experts states that Frank is a survivor of child abuse and serial rape by her father. Psychologist Leslie Lebowitz found that Frank was “psychologically terrorized,” had “multiple near-death experiences,” was “forced to witness the brutalization of people she loved,” and “was raped repeatedly throughout childhood and
adolescence,” according to the letter.

“Research shows that children and adolescents who endure such abuse experience profound and lasting changes in the way they perceive and interact with the world and others,” the letter said.

Frank was denied a full clemency hearing on Friday.

Letty DiGiulio, the attorney representing Frank, issued the following statement.

“Antoinette Frank deserves an opportunity to present the full story both of her own history of victimization and of what happened in the Kim Anh restaurant. At today’s administrative hearing, Antoinette was not permitted to be present to speak to the Board, answer  any questions the members have about the sincerity of her remorse, her background, and her role in the crime. At a full clemency hearing, this would have been a large part of the Board’s proceeding. It is a travesty for the Board to close the door to clemency on a 2-2 vote, after such a truncated proceeding and without considering Antoinette’s lifetime of being raped and controlled by her father or the evidence confirming that she was coerced at gunpoint into aiding the crime, particularly when her co-defendant already has been resentenced to life.”

Clifford Deruise, who has had an intellectual disability since childhood, was found guilty in 1996 of two counts of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of an 11-month-old and a man, Gary Booker. He was sentenced to death in both cases. The death sentence in connection to Booker’s death was later vacated, documents said.

Deruise was denied a full clemency hearing Friday.

Matilde Carbia, the attorney representing Deruise, issued the following statement.

“Clifford Deruise has worked hard to overcome the challenges of his intellectual disability and the violence and neglect of his childhood, and he now devotes himself to helping others make better choices. Clifford was originally scheduled for a full clemency hearing today, at which he would have had an opportunity to address the Board. Instead, at today’s unprecedented hearing, Clifford was not able to participate and address the questions raised about his remorse, his growth and transformation over his years in prison. The opportunity for clemency should not be foreclosed on the basis of such a truncated proceeding and on a 2-2 split vote. Clifford should have the opportunity to present the Board with all of the evidence of his redemption journey and to prove he deserves mercy.”

Danny Irish was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death in Caddo Parish in the 1996 killing of his landlord when he was 18. His clemency application said IQ testing has shown that he was intellectually impaired to a degree that makes him ineligible for the death penalty.

Irish was denied a full clemency hearing Friday.

Aaron Novod, the attorney representing Irish, issued the following statement.

“Danny Irish bears little resemblance to the teenager who was arrested in 1996. Today’s proceeding was supposed to be a full clemency hearing, at which Danny would have been able to speak directly to the Board and answer its questions about his growth and redemption over the past 25 years. It is unconscionable that the Board, on an evenly divided vote, has denied Danny the opportunity to present detailed evidence of the role his youth, trauma, and intellectual impairments played in the crime, as well as his transformation into a responsible, caring, trustworthy, and devout man deserving of mercy.”

Emmet Taylor was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death in the 1997 killing of a 77-year-old in a Marrero pharmacy in an attempted robbery. Taylor’s clemency application said he has an intellectual disability, brain damage, childhood trauma, schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Taylor was denied a full clemency hearing on Friday.

Matilde Carbia, the attorney representing Taylor, issued the following statement.

“Given that so many serious questions remain about Emmett Taylor’s conviction and death sentence, there is no justification for the Board’s refusal to move this case forward to a clemency hearing. At a bare minimum, Emmett should have the chance to address the Board personally, which he would have if this had been the substantive hearing originally scheduled for today. It is a travesty that on a 2-2 evenly split vote, he is being denied that opportunity, as well as the ability to present the newly developed evidence of his innocence and the evidence documenting his intellectual disability, mental illness, and other important grounds that warrant commuting his death sentence.”

Winthrop Eaton was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death in Rapides Parish after killing a female Monroe pastor in 1985. Eaton was declared insane and incompetent of execution by a judge in 1993, according to his clemency application.

Ben McGehee, the senior pastor of Lea Joyner Memorial Methodist Church, said he supports commuting Eaton’s sentence. He has said that the victim, Joyner, would not have wanted Eaton executed.

Eaton was denied a full clemency hearing on Friday.

Nick Trenticosta, the attorney representing Eaton, issued the following statement.

“Winthrop Earl Eaton was found incompetent decades ago and his mental and physical condition have only declined since then. Louisiana will never be able to execute Earl due to his serious mental illness, and there is simply no justification for the Board’s refusal to grant him a full clemency hearing.”

Nonprofit law firm says Gov. Edwards ‘must step up’

Executive Director of the Louisiana Capital Appeals Project Cecelia Kappel issued a statement after the hearings saying that governor’s letter was clear, adding that Edwards should give clarification to the board.

Read the full statement below.

“Governor Edwards’ letter to the Board in August was clear that the Board must hold clemency hearings for the individuals on death row. These hearings would have allowed all parties to be heard, including the applicants themselves.

“What happened today epitomizes the arbitrary nature of the death penalty in Louisiana. The Board summarily denied even a hearing to these individuals on death row, by a divided vote, without letting them speak, or even looking them in the face.

“Governor Edwards must step up to clarify that he intends for the Board to hold substantive clemency hearings for all of the death row applicants before he leaves office.”

Cecelia Kappel, executive director of the Louisiana Capital Appeals Project

The LDAA issued a statement Friday afternoon.

Louisiana District Attorneys are pleased to report that today the Board of Pardons declined to refer any of the first 5 applications for clemency from death-row inmates for a full clemency hearing. All 5 applications were opposed by the relevant District Attorneys, the LDAA, the Attorney General, and other entities. 

Most significantly, these hearings provided the opportunity, albeit limited, for the victims to voice their strong opposition. Without exception, the heartfelt testimony of the victims added color to what has thus far been a black & white legal battle over law, rules, and procedure.  We are also grateful for willingness of the pardon board to hold these hearings, providing that opportunity to the victims. The victims matter. The facts matter. 

There is still pending litigation in the 19th Judicial District Court.  Moreover, there is another round of “Administrative Review Hearings” scheduled for November 8. Louisiana District Attorneys stand committed, with or partners, to fight for the victims at every turn. 

Loren Lampert, executive director of the Louisiana District Attorneys Association