La. death penalty study to define terminology of capital cases, costs

La. death penalty study to define terminology of capital cases, costs

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - It's back to basics for the Capital Punishment Fiscal Impact Commission. The group met Wednesday for the first time since before the Legislative Session began in April.

"It's very important for us to revisit what the scope of this commission is," said Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, and the chairman of the commission.

Sen. Morrell said his group will not debate whether the death penalty is right or wrong. The New Orleans senator said he wants to hear data, not advocates on both sides pushing their cause.

"It's not this commission's job even to make a recommendation to the legislature as to what to do with the death penalty. It is to simply report the costs," said Sen. Morrell.

That notion was accepted unanimously by the rest of the commission. The group also agreed on what questions they need to answer before moving forward.

"We can't even agree on what a capital case is," said John DeRosier, District Attorney for Calcasieu Parish. "A capital case to me is a case where the district attorney's office has indicted for first-degree murder and indicated they're going to seek capital punishment."

But DeRosier said other jurisdictions do not use the same definition.

Another major part to determine is defining the costs of a capital case.

"Are we talking about days on a judge's docket, or hours in court, or are we talking about just dollars? We need to define that," said Remy Starns, a New Orleans attorney.

The commission will review death penalty studies done in other states. That's expected to help members answer Wednesday's questions by the next meeting.

"The first goal of this commission going forward will be to determine the methodology for quantifying costs, period," said Sen. Morrell.

One person was executed in Louisiana over the past decade. On Monday, Lee Turner, Jr., the convicted Carquest Auto Parts killer, became the state's newest member of death row. Sen. Morrell said Turner's case will likely be looked at extensively in the study.

The group will meet again in October.

Their original deadline to finish the study was New Year's Day 2016. That was changed to New Year's Day 2018 during the Legislative Session.

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