Louisiana lawmakers propose getting rid of death penalty

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Three Louisiana lawmakers are sponsoring bills this session to eliminate the death penalty in the Bayou State.

Under legislation proposed by Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, any crime committed on or after August 1, 2017 could no longer lead to a death sentence. The more than 70 people currently on Louisiana's death row would remain there.

Instead of being sentenced to death, those convicted of crimes such as first degree murder and first degree rape would face life in prison without the possibility of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence.

The effort is getting a bipartisan push. In the House, the former head of state police, Rep. Terry Landry, D-New Iberia, and the former sheriff of Franklin Parish, Rep. Steven Pylant, R-Winnsboro, are sponsoring a similar bill.

"The system just doesn't work," said Claitor, who views his bill in part as a cost-saving measure.

Over the last decade, only one person in Louisiana has been put to death. Gerald Bordelon, convicted of kidnapping and murdering a woman, waived his right to an appeal, a process that overall can take decades. Bordelon was killed by lethal injection in 2010.

During that same 10-year time period, state public defender, Jay Dixon, said Louisiana has spent about $100 million defending capital cases. That does not take into account the additional costs of the prosecution, sequestering juries, and more.

"The amount of money that we currently spend to prosecute somebody to the death penalty through the appellate process is more than we would spend on the average prisoner's life in jail," said Claitor.

However, East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore said the death penalty should stay, believing it to be appropriate in some severe cases. "It is expensive, but justice should not bow down to money," said Moore.

He said capital punishment can help bring closure to the families of victims, despite the lengthy appeals process.

During his time as DA, he has put two people on death row, including Dacarius Holliday, convicted of killing a 2-year-old in 2007.

"It's not something we like to do, it's something we kick around a lot here before we make that decision. That's the ultimate decision you make as a DA," said Moore.

Even so, Claitor argues the costs associated with the death penalty are too great, including the potential loss of innocent life. Over the past four decades, ten people on death row in Louisiana have been exonerated and let go, according to the National Registry of Exonerations.

Claitor said a life behind bars is a better option. "Those that deserve the death penalty, I think it would be a lot worse for them to spend their days in jail and it won't cheapen us as a society to do so," Claitor said.

The regular session begins Monday, April 10.

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