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July 24, 2018

Louisiana Attorney General suggests pursuing alternative execution methods in letter to Governor

This local article, headlined "Electrocution, firing squads should be options for death penalty in Louisiana, AG Jeff Landry tells Gov. Edwards," reports on an interesting letter about the death penalty in the midst of a kind of intramural fight between Louisiana office-holders of different parties.  Here are the basics:

In their ongoing bickering over the death penalty, Louisiana’s Republican attorney general Tuesday asked the Democratic governor to support bringing back hanging, firing squads and the electric chair.

After the back and forth over capital punishment last week between the two possible rivals in next year's gubernatorial race, Attorney General Jeff Landry issued a letter Tuesday [available here] saying Gov. John Bel Edwards’ statements on why Louisiana hasn’t moved forward on executing convicted murderers are “both intentionally misleading and cold comfort to victims’ families.”

Landry again demanded Edwards say where he personally stood on the death penalty.  Then Landry proposed legislation that would change the state's capital punishment law to allow for different forms of execution other than just lethal injection.  He recommended the Legislature pass a law that would allow the state Department of Corrections to choose between hanging, firing squads, and electrocution to put condemned criminals to death if other methods are unavailable.  He asked for Edwards' support.

"Mr. Landry is accurate in that new legislation must be proposed to solve the death penalty issue.  However, in the past three legislative sessions Mr. Landry’s office has not presented any legislation to help alleviate this roadblock, until now," Department of Corrections Secretary James M. LeBlanc said.  Only a legislator can submit a bill for consideration of becoming law.  The next legislative session is scheduled to begin April 8.

Edwards has consistently ducked stating his personal view on capital punishment, saying instead that he has sworn to uphold state and federal laws.  “But I am not going to pretend that we have the ability to do something we don’t have. It’s not about scoring political points.  It’s about being realistic in the way we govern,” Edwards told reporters Monday, the day before Landry’s letter was released publicly.

In answering questions during a highway project groundbreaking ceremony on Monday, Edwards said he specifically did not favor hangings or firing squads. "I am not inclined to go back to methods that have been discarded (when) popular sentiment turned against methods that were deemed to be barbaric and so forth.  We have a law in place we will continue to try to search for solutions around that law," which allows execution by lethal injection, the governor said.

After Landry’s letter was released to a television station Tuesday, the governor’s spokesman, Richard Carbo, said in a prepared statement: “We are pleased that he has conceded that current law, not the governor, is standing in the way of the state resuming executions, which have been on hold since 2010.  Quitting the very lawsuit that was meant to bring justice for these families was never the answer, so his commitment to re-engage is welcome news.”...

Louisiana last executed an inmate, who volunteered to be put to death, in 2010.  Before that the last person executed was in 2002 during Gov. Mike Foster’s administration. Seventy-two inmates are on death row at the Angola penitentiary awaiting execution....

Landry would change the law to say that if lethal injection is unavailable then the method would be nitrogen hypoxia.  That mode basically fills an air tight mask on the condemned with nitrogen gas, thereby causing death by a lack of oxygen.  Oklahoma legislators have looked at that method of execution as a way around the inability to purchase the drugs needed for lethal injections. If nitrogen hypoxia is found unconstitutional or becomes otherwise unavailable, then Corrections Department secretary could choose between hanging, firing squad or electrocution, under Landry’s proposal.

July 24, 2018 at 09:41 PM | Permalink


The proposed methods were cruel only to the onlookers, and only when something went wrong. None was ever cruel to the condemned.

For example, the electric chair sets the head on fire. That is disturbing. However, the condemned was dead within the time it took for electricity to travel through the fatty substance of the brain. That speed is slower than the speed of light in space, but not by much. That speed would not allow any awareness by the brain. Poorly calculated drops in hanging may have decapitated the condemned. Yes, disturbing, but only to the onlookers, not to the condemned. If onlookers do not want the risk of cruel treatment, they should not attend.

The executions should not be public nor recorded. The public attention is highly rewarding, and may inspire others to commit capital crime to get the same attention.

As I have argued in the past, the sole cruelty is the announced date. Even the patient near death is spared knowledge of that precise time, as are the rest of us. Japan solved that problem by not having set dates. The family and the condemned learn of the execution, the day of the execution. I have proposed that serious problem as a novel Eighth Amendment appellate cruelty argument. No member of the death penalty appellate bar has ever shown any interest in it.

Posted by: David Behar | Jul 25, 2018 4:15:58 AM

It should be compulsory for the Gov.& AG together with the trial Judge to attend all executions. They wouldn't then be able to make their judgements in glorious abstraction from the realities of taking a man's life.

Posted by: peter | Jul 25, 2018 10:19:50 AM

Peter. When your time comes, there is a 90% chance your death will take months, will involve unimaginable pain, with poor ability to control it. This is especially true since the know nothing Ivy radicalized lawyer is clamping down on opiate use for pain patients. Then illegal aliens will have to provide your hygienic care. You will be deprived of your current functions, one after the other.

You will come to envy the kindness of capital punishment. This is the curse I am putting on you.

Posted by: David Behar | Jul 25, 2018 10:39:10 AM

Is there a requirement that an execution leave behind a relatively intact dead body? If not, it is easy to think of any number of quick and painless ways to accomplish the deed.

Posted by: William Jockusch | Jul 26, 2018 9:00:34 PM

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