Bill eliminating the death penalty in Louisiana advances at capitol

Bill eliminating the death penalty in Louisiana advances at capitol

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A bill eliminating the death penalty in Louisiana overcame its first hurdle Tuesday at the capitol.

A Senate panel voted 6-1 to advance SB 142 by Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge. Only Sen. Bodi White, R-Baton Rouge, voted against.

Lawyers, members of the clergy, and other advocates lined up in the support of the measure. Some argued on moral and religious grounds, while others pointed to simple economics.

"We human beings cannot handle the power of life and death. We're not designed to do that. That's God's work," said Marty Stroud, a former death penalty prosecutor who put an innocent man named Glenn Ford on death row for several decades.

"The risk of executing one person, one individual who is innocent is enough for us to put a moratorium on this death penalty," said Rep. Terry Landry, D-New Iberia. The former head of Louisiana State Police is also sponsoring his own identical version of the bill in the House.

Nick Trenticosta, a post-conviction death penalty lawyer, told lawmakers that Louisiana reverses more death penalty convictions than any other state nationwide. 82 percent of cases have been reversed since 1977, according to Trenticosta.

"It is hopelessly dysfunctional, it is totally ineffective, and it is prohibitively expensive," Trenticosta said of the death penalty.

Since 2008, the state has spent more than $90 million defending capital cases. That does not include other expenses like police work or sequestering the jury, according to Louisiana State Public Defender Jay Dixon.

During that same time, only one person across the state has been executed and he did so voluntarily.

Claitor's bill would only apply to cases on or after August 1, 2017. Those already on death row would remain there.

However, some crime victims and prosecutors objected to the bill, including Christie Battaglia. Her father made headlines when he killed her two half-sisters. He now sits on death row in Texas.

"What he did still hurts me," Battaglia said.

Speaking on behalf of victims in the bayou state, she said she worried that if the bill were made law, a court could easily go ahead and reverse the death sentences for those already awaiting execution in Louisiana.

"There are people that don't change," Battaglia said.

Meanwhile, Ascension District Attorney Ricky Babin argued that the death penalty should be left on the table as an option in extreme cases. He cited an incident in Gonzales, where a man fired shots in a church.

"There are crimes which are so heinous that I submit to you the death penalty may be the appropriate penalty," Babin said.

The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration. The governor so far has not taken an official stance on the proposal.

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