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New Louisiana Gov Perfectly Happy To Execute These People (One Factually Innocent) By Firing Squad
None of these people should be put to death.
Back in August, outgoing Democratic Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards made the somewhat surprising request that the Louisiana parole board grant clemency for all of the prisoners on the state’s death row.
Why now? Probably because it occurred to Edwards, who is personally opposed to the death penalty as a Catholic, that he would be succeeded by a Republican who would actually start executing people again. The state hasn’t executed anyone since 2010, largely due to the inability to procure the drugs necessary for lethal injections, but Republican Governor-elect Jeff Landry is ready to remedy that by bringing back the electric chair, hangings, and firing squads. You know, the kind of executions that get the kind of people who voted for him all tingly.
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Unfortunately, the parole board is refusing to even conduct clemency hearings.
While Landry as attorney general successfully defended the governor’s right to grant clemency with the approval of the parole board, he’s been extremely opposed to the mass clemencies and in August joined a civil suit seeking to block the clemency hearings. As part of the settlement, the board will now only do administrative hearings to see if clemency hearings are “warranted.”
Last week, the board denied clemency hearings to all five death row petitioners up for consideration.
Petitioner Clifford Deruise, convicted at the age of 22 on two charges of first-degree murder, was born with an intellectual disability that was exacerbated by multiple head injuries as a child — including falling from a second floor window at three, “a fall off a slide on the school playground, being struck by a vehicle at age nine, a fall in a bathtub at age 11, and injuries resulting from beatings administered by his mother or stepfather.” He also started drinking at age 6.
Winthrop Earl Eaton, who suffers from schizophrenia and killed a church pastor while in a psychotic state, was officially declared mentally incompetent 30 years ago.
From Eaton’s case background, provided by his attorney, Nick Trenticosta:
Earl was raised in a loving family that cared deeply for him, but struggled to handle his learning challenges and mental illness. Earl was diagnosed as a child with intellectual disability. He was placed in special education classes in school.
As a teenager, Earl began experiencing psychotic episodes. When Earl was a teenager, his father sought mental health treatment for him. At age 20, after spending just one day in a psychiatric ward, Earl was discharged. Following the attending physician’s advice, his parents then kicked him out of their home. Not long thereafter, in the grip of psychosis, he committed the crime.
“Winthrop Earl Eaton was found incompetent decades ago and his mental and physical condition have only declined since then,” Trenticosta said in a statement. “Louisiana will never be able to execute Earl due to his serious mental illness, and there is simply no justification for the Board’s refusal to grant him a full clemency hearing.”
Danny Irish was just 18 when he was sentenced to death. His issues started before he was born, as his mother took multiple prescription medicines throughout her pregnancy. He was born with an intellectual disability and was severely abused and neglected by his mother, who once hit him in the head with a board, which resulted in brain damage that has been confirmed by a PET scan and an MRI. He has been a model prisoner in his 24 years on death row, to the point that one former guard said, “I have so much confidence in Danny’s behavior that I would move him into my home with me, my wife and children.”
Antoinette Frank is the only woman on Louisiana’s death row, sentenced to death despite the fact that the man who manipulated her and forced her at gunpoint to kill people is serving life in prison. Her background and the documented abuse she suffered at the hands of her father was so severe that at least two jurors have said that they would not have supported giving her the death penalty had they known.
Brace yourself, because it’s really bad:
He regularly threatened to kill the whole family, packing them into the car and stopping for hours in the middle of train tracks or filling the kitchen with gas. His abuse of Antoinette in particular was documented by the Veterans Administration (VA) where he was being treated with anti-psychotics for his PTSD, and he admitted to choking her and throwing her across the room when she was only two years old.
The VA recommended that she be removed from his custody, but instead his abuse got worse. Antoinette’s father began molesting her when she was nine years old and started raping her at age 11 or 12. The rapes continued even after she became a police officer at 22 years old. Three times, the first when she was 16 years old, Antoinette became pregnant as a result of her father’s rapes; each time, her father forced her to have an abortion.
Antoinette’s mother eventually took three of her four children and escaped the violence, but she left Antoinette behind. The father cut Antoinette off from her mother, continued to rape her regularly and controlled every aspect of her life, forcing her to ask permission even to use the bathroom. Antoinette’s father held her out as his wife to neighbors and friends.
There are no words. There are just no words.
Finally, we had Emmett Taylor, who like many on death row, is likely innocent. He was convicted at 21 based only on faulty eyewitness testimony and a “confession” he gave after hours and hours of interrogation (which we know has a tendency to produce false confessions, particularly with younger people and those with mental illness and intellectual disabilities and those who have been severely abused by the adults in their life).
In February of 1997, a robber shot and killed a pharmacy clerk. Later that day, police interrogated Taylor, who has an intellectual disability, schizophrenia, drug problems, and a background of severe abuse, because his car matched the description of the one seen at the scene of the crime. He told them he was taking a job entrance exam, but they arrested him anyway, interrogating him for hours until he finally “confessed.” They also did not bother to corroborate his story about the job entrance exam.
He didn’t match the initial description of the assailant, and eyewitnesses were initially unable to identify him — until after they saw his picture on TV, which apparently triggered their memory.
Evidence has recently emerged that proves that Taylor was, in fact, taking a job entrance exam. Shouldn’t his lawyers have pointed that out? Indeed, they should have! "Emmett’s trial attorney did virtually no investigation of the case, but his current lawyers have been able to document that Emmett was, in fact, taking a job-related test at the time the crime occurred, just as he initially told the police." Well, we all know actual innocence is no bar to the death penalty. So said that great originalist Antonin Scalia.
These are the people that the Louisiana State Parole Board just couldn’t see giving clemency hearings to. As a result, the lawsuits are starting to pour in. Anti-death-penalty activist Sister Helen Prejean has filed one against the state for violating their own public meetings law in order to delay the clemency hearings. The attorneys representing the prisoners have also filed a lawsuit against the State Parole Board for violating their clients’ rights and trying to get out of Edwards’ order to grant the hearings.
"Defendants' deliberate actions to manipulate the process ... have rendered the Louisiana executive clemency process a sham," the lawsuit says.
These are not cases of terrible people who need killing, they are glaring failures of our society’s ability to protect children and care for those with mental illnesses (along with our criminal justice system’s tendency to convict the innocent). What are we even doing here? How does anyone think this is okay?
And sure, you can say, “Oh, well, not everyone with a history of severe abuse, intellectual disability, schizophrenia or brain damage goes on to kill people,” but what is actually going to keep more people safe? Working to ensure that children are safe in their homes, that kids with intellectual disabilities are getting the help they need, and that people have access to mental healthcare, or just killing these five people?