BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - On the steps of the Louisiana Capitol Building, the executive director of the ACLU in the state, Alanah Hebert, and a former death row inmate urged lawmakers to end the death penalty.
"We are here today because the death penalty is a broken process from start to finish,” Hebert said.
Standing next to Hebert was Shareef Cousin. He was sentenced to death for the murder of a New Orleans man who was coming out of a restaurant in the French Quarter back in the 90s. He was sentenced to death when he was 16-years-old.
"I was innocent. I was framed,” Cousin said. “While on death row, people could not imagine the mental anguish that I had to go through as a child.”
After being on death row for nearly three years, his case was dismissed by the Louisiana Supreme Court and he was exonerated.
"The likelihood of being sentenced to death doesn’t depend on someone’s account of the severity of the crime, but rather on their lack of adequate legal representation, the color of their skin, or the state where they happen to live,” Hebert said.
House Bill 215, filed by Terry Landry, D-New Iberia, would eliminate the death penalty in Louisiana for any offenses committed on or after Aug. 1.
Opponents like Special Assistant Attorney General John Sinquefield, who has prosecuted several death penalty cases, do not believe it should be repealed. He says he does not believe an innocent man could be put to death under the current system.
"Where we have DNA and all the modern forensics, death penalty cases and Louisiana reserved for people or there is an absolute certainty of guilt and then that’s reviewed,” Sinquefield said.
He says the death penalty is a necessary deterrent for the most serious offenders.
“It’s critical now,” he said. “It’s worse than ever. We have murder rates that to me are sad and astounding.”
For Cousin, the lack of protection was all too real for him while he was serving his time.
"In my case, it was no DNA evidence that would have exonerated me,” Cousin said.
According to the ACLU, Louisiana leads the nation in death row exonerations per capita, having released 11 men since the punishment was reinstated in the 1970s.