80 inmates remain on Louisiana death row after passing of Derrick Todd Lee

80 convicts remain on Louisiana's death row

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - With the death of Derrick Todd Lee, 80 individuals remain on death row in Louisiana.

Caddo Parish has convicted fifteen of the inmates who are currently on death row, which is the most in the state. East Baton Rouge has convicted 13.

Many of them have been on death row for decades, including Michael O. Perry and James E. Copeland, who have been there since 1986.

The extensive stays on death row are in part the result of lengthy appeals processes that often go to the federal level.

"These are costly endeavors, following these death penalty cases through," said Hillar Moore, District Attorney for East Baton Rouge Parish.

During his wait on death row for more than a decade, tax payers spent more than $200,000 to cover Derrick Todd Lee's prison expenses. The appeals process itself costs much more.

"You are talking hundreds of thousands of dollars, possibly a million, particularly throughout the entire 25-year period of time," Moore said.

While the appeals process is important, because it serves as a safe-guard to protect innocent people, it can also be prolonged unnecessarily in Louisiana for several reasons, according to James Craig, co-director of the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center based in New Orleans.

Craig said part of the problem is defense teams are often overworked and overextended.

"If you've got 100 felonies that you're dealing with or more, and many more in some jurisdictions and then death penalty cases, the chance that you can get out and do the investigation that's needed in your death penalty case. It's really just too much to ask," said Craig, who has defended people facing capital punishment in both Louisiana and Mississippi.

Frequently, defense attorneys may have to work several other cases while also working capital cases, according to Craig. As a result, investigations may suffer, leading to appeals.

"As a result, there's a lot of litigation about facts that should have been uncovered prior to trial and there have to be hearings about what the trial lawyers knew and why they didn't do the investigation that was required and quite often cases get reversed and have to be retried," he said. "Either we do these cases right when they're coming up to trial or we they have to be redone over and over again over the years."

By contrast, he said in Mississippi there is a program in place giving each death penalty case its own specialty lawyer, making rulings more airtight and in effect helping speed up the appeals process.

"As a result is now very rare for Mississippi cases to get reversed for an ineffective council," Craig said.

Craig said there are several options to fix this. For one, the state could pursue less death sentences, thereby not stretching attorneys quite so thin. Alternatively, the state could provide more funding to defense attorneys.

"They are given some state funded money, but the vast majority of the state public defender money comes from fines and fees on misdemeanor offenses, so it's a very uncertain source of income," Craig said.

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