Louisiana executions stall for a decade amid legal quandary

BATON ROUGE, La (AP) — Louisiana cleans its execution chamber at the state penitentiary daily, but it’s been more than a decade since a condemned prisoner has laid on the chamber’s black-padded gurney to die.

Sixty-eight people sit on Louisiana’s death row, with no execution dates set.

Though the state historically has been tough on crime and holds the dubious distinction as the nation’s incarceration capital, Louisiana seems to be doing very little to carry out its death penalty.

Reaching the 10-year mark since its last execution this month, Louisiana has joined a trend of falling execution numbers across the country. Death chambers in 12 of 29 states with legalised capital punishment have gone unused for more than a decade, said Executive Director of the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center Robert Dunham. Utah will join that list in June.

Louisiana’s execution protocols are tied up in litigation, and corrections officials said they can’t obtain lethal injection drugs amid pushback from pharmaceutical manufacturers.

Opponents of the death penalty hold a vigil marking the 10-year interval since Louisiana’s last execution. PHOTO: AP

Not surprisingly, people on opposite ends of the capital punishment debate disagree about the driving forces behind the drop in executions.

Death penalty opponents said rising concerns from the public and prosecutors about the cost of such cases, racial disparities in death sentences and high-profile exonerations have lessened support for capital punishment.

“Over the last 10 years, we believe Louisiana has seen a massive decline in its appetite for the death penalty,” said Mercedes Montagnes, executive director of the New Orleans-based Promise of Justice Initiative, which advocates for ending capital punishment.

But a 2018 survey by Louisiana State University found a majority of Louisiana residents favour the death penalty.

Critics of the stalled executions instead describe prosecutors frustrated by lengthy legal battles that surround a successful death sentence, and blame a lack of will from state leaders.