Bill to eliminate death penalty in La. fails to pass House panel by one vote

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The death penalty lives to see another day in Louisiana, at least for now.

With a margin of just one vote, a House panel chose to scrap a bill Wednesday that would have done away with capital punishment in Bayou State.

Sponsored by former state police superintendent, Terry Landry, D-New Iberia, the bill would have taken the death penalty off the table for any crime committed on or after August 1 of this year. It would not apply retroactively to those already sitting on death row.

"We can do better. We're no better off, we're no better off as a society with the death penalty on the books," said Landry.

Defense attorneys and former death row inmates spoke out in support of the bill, saying the death penalty is an expensive practice the state cannot afford due to high court costs. Since 2008, the state has spent more than $90 million defending capital cases. That does not include other expenses such as police work or sequestering the jury, according to Louisiana State Public Defender Jay Dixon.

They also pointed to Louisiana's high reversal rate on death penalty convictions, expressing concern that innocent people could be executed.

"You cannot change the past. What is there is done now, but you have the opportunity to change the future," said Ray Krone, a death row inmate in Arizona who was exonerated after 10 years behind bars.

However, those in opposition won out the day, saying DAs deserve the right to make the decision.

"As a DA, I'm asking for an option. The option of having this as the ultimate penalty for the worst of the worst," said St. John the Baptist Parish DA Bridget Dinvaut.

One of those voting against the measure was in fact one of the bill's co-authors. Former sheriff Steve Pylant, R-Winnsboro, voted against the bill, meaning he helped kill his own piece of legislation.

There is a similar bill waiting for a vote on the Senate floor. The sponsor of that bill, Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, says he does not plan to make his members vote on it since there is no hope of it making it through the House.

Landry says he intends to bring legislation eliminating the death penalty again next year.

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