In response to governor, pardon board schedules hearings for 20 death row inmates seeking clemency
BATON ROUGE - The Louisiana Board of Pardons has scheduled clemency hearings for many of the state's death row inmates, just a day after Governor John Bel Edwards called for the board to fast-track their cases.
The WBRZ Investigative Unit learned Thursday that the pardon board has set dates to hear cases from 20 death row inmates, all of them seeking to be moved off death row, from mid-October through November. The board, whose members are appointed by the governor, acknowledged that it was expediting those cases in response to the governor's letter.
Board members were flooded with requests for leniency from all 56 of Louisiana's death row inmates earlier this year after Governor Edwards, who's nearing the end of his last term, acknowledged publicly for the first time that he opposed the death penalty.
With the sitting governor having final say over all pardons, that announcement instigated a rush to have those cases heard before Edwards leaves office.
The board has so far scheduled 20 hearings from Oct. 13 to Nov. 27, saying it's the most they could take on without impeding their existing case load. Among those up for consideration in the coming months are five convicts from the capital area, including four killers from East Baton Rouge.
The Louisiana District Attorneys Association released a response Thursday criticizing the decision.
"Any time the public we serve perceives a thumb on the scales of justice at any
level it erodes their confidence in what we do," the statement read. "Irrespective of your opinion of the death penalty, 11th hour mass expedited clemency hearings are not the proper venue to have the debate."
The board's actions comes after a July 24 meeting during which members effectively delayed in making a decision on whether to hear those cases.
Prosecutors across the state have come out against the push to clear Louisiana's death row, with East Baton Rouge DA Hillar Moore saying the state was breaking its own rules in an effort to consider leniency for the "worst of the worst."
"This is extremely troubling to us," Moore said Wednesday. "It's contrary to what the law is and what the process has been and speaking to victims today following this letter —because we have to notify them about what's going on — they feel like they are on a roller coaster ride of emotions."
The Governor said in his letter that if a commutation were to happen, none of the inmates would be released from prison. The District Attorneys Association said that's not necessarily accurate, pointing to recent examples where people who were serving life sentences without the possibility of parole managed to be released.
"It appears now that he's acting as judge and jury and he does have some rights as governor, not under this process," Moore said.
Moore released the following statement Thursday.
At the request of the Governor, the Board has apparently been put in the precarious position of following its own rules or complying with the Governor’s request. I am not envious of the position that this Board has been placed by the Governor’s request to the Board he appointed. This Board has my respect. I am concerned that the Board has apparently reversed its previous decision with no hearing. We believe the Board’s action is far beyond the scope of its authority and this process is now at a point where it is blatantly offensive and unfair to the families and loved ones of the victims of these horrendous crimes.
In speaking with family members, they hope that the Governor and those in the decision making process can feel their continued pain. The pain is enduring. There has been no acceptance of guilt or apology in the applications. Yet, these killers are getting royal treatment. This cruel treatment to the victims’ families must stop.
Why are we allowing these heinous murderers who have had every opportunity to have their cases investigated, tried, appealed multiple times and at multiple levels of state and federal court the luxury of an expedited commutation hearing? A normal clemency case takes over 9 months to a year to complete.
I respect the religious beliefs and views of those on both sides of the death penalty issue. This is not a criticism or attempt to quell anyone’s personal beliefs. To the contrary, I simply want the victims’ family members, friends and the public to know we will work tirelessly to ensure that the voices of the victims are heard and the law is upheld.
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