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La. pardon board denies requests from 5 death row inmates seeking clemency hearings

4 months 2 weeks 5 days ago Friday, October 13 2023 Oct 13, 2023 October 13, 2023 1:06 PM October 13, 2023 in News
Source: WBRZ

BATON ROUGE - A handful of inmates who were seeking a shot at leniency amid a push to clear Louisiana's death row were denied clemency hearings Friday.

The Louisiana Board of Pardons on Friday shot down requests from all five inmates who were vying for a hearing that could have spared them the death penalty. 

"Plenty of reasons not to move these forward to a full hearing, we are very pleased the board followed their proceedings, their rules, and denied all of them," said Loren Lampert, the Executive Director Louisiana District Attorney Association. 

Antoinette Frank, Clifford Deruise, Daniel Irish, Emmett Taylor, and Winthrop Eaton, were granted a clemency hearing months ago. On Friday, their cases were heard during a historic review hearings. It's the first time victims and supporters were able to speak in favor or against clemency hearings to the board.

Danna Nachampassak, broke down several times as she and family members pleaded for her son's killer, Deruise not to have a chance at clemency. 11-month-old Etienne Nachampassak, died on November 8, 1995, two days after being shot in the head during a carjacking in New Orleans. Danna was also shot multiple times. Deruise was found guilty and sentenced to death not only for the infants death, but also 20-year-old Gary Booker, who was shot and killed on November 6th, over $1.00 by Deruise. 

Deruise had family members and other advocates speak out in favor of a clemency hearing, saying he has changed, and he had extreme mental issues during a traumatic childhood. Despite those arguments, two board members said yes saying he meets the clemency hearing requirements. The other two said no, due to too many aggravated write ups.

Antoinette Frank also denied by two-two. She is the only woman in the state facing execution. Frank was sentenced to death in 1995. She was a former NOPD officer who shot and killed three people. Ronald Williams, 17-year-old Cuong Vu and 24-year-old Ha Vu, whose family owned the restaurant in New Orleans East where all three were killed. Frank went to rob the place with another guy. 

Emmett Taylor was also denied two-two. He was sentenced to death in 1997 for shooting and killing Marie Tuscano. Taylor went to the pharmacy Tuscano was working to steal a drug test. He shot and killed her as she ran out of the back door.

Danny Irish also was denied two-two. He was sentenced to death in 1999 after he shot and killed his landlord, Russ Rowland in 1996. His wife told the board it was over $441.00. 

Winthrop Eaton was the only inmate to be denied by all four board members. In 1987 he was sentenced for beating, raping, and killing Rev. Lea Joyner. According to his attorney, he was found mentally insane, diagnosed with schizophrenia. The state later found him fit for execution, but the ruling was challenged in federal court, saying they could not make that ruling while he was medicated. Eaton was taken off of his medication, to be found un fit for execution. The four board members decided there was no reason for him to be moved to the treatment ward, as he had several behavioral write ups, and is receiving treatment.

Their cases were fast-tracked amid a push from Governor John Bel Edwards to have cases heard for all 56 of Louisiana's current death row inmates before he leaves office in January. Prosecutors across the state decried the efforts to "rush" the process and legally challenged attempts to secure hearings for all of those inmates.

A recent settlement between the pardon board and district attorneys from numerous jurisdictions significantly cut down the list of eligible death row inmates.

"There is not a single death warrant on the books, you can determine where you think this sense of urgency is coming from, I'll leave that to others to decide, there is no death warrant signed or set," said Lampert.

The five attorneys representing the inmates issued the following statement:

Today, the Louisiana Board of Pardons and Paroles held brief “administrative reviews” for five people on death row: Clifford Deruise, Winthrop Eaton, Antoinette Frank, Danny Irish, and Emmett Taylor. Unlike at a full clemency hearing, the applicants themselves were not present and had no opportunity to speak to the Board. Instead, each side was allowed just 10 minutes to present witnesses and attorney statements. The Board, comprised of five members, four of whom participated today, then split evenly in four of the five cases, with two members voting to hold a full clemency hearing for the applicant and two voting against it (in one case, Winthrop Eaton, a full hearing was denied by a three-to-one vote). All five applicants were denied the opportunity for a full clemency hearing, during which they would have been able to personally address the Board and answer questions about why their death sentences should be commuted to life imprisonment without possibility of parole.

The five cases that had administrative hearings today are marked by many of the same serious systemic problems that prove Louisiana’s death penalty is broken. These issues include innocence, intellectual disability, serious mental illness, childhood sexual abuse and trauma, racial bias, youth, prosecutorial misconduct, sentencing disparities, and ineffective defense representation.

The Louisiana District Attorneys also put out a statement praising the decision:

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 our partners, to fight for the victims at every turn.

Another review hearing like this one will take place in November.

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