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Judge dismisses decade-old Louisiana death penalty case

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Attorney General Jeff Landry

By Victor Skinner | The Center Square contributor

(The Center Square) – Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry has vowed to find a way to execute death row inmates after a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the state’s execution methods.

U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick has granted the state’s motion to dismiss the case – Hoffman v. Jindal – which centered on Louisiana’s inability to secure the necessary drugs for lethal injections.

Death row inmate Jessie Hoffman sued in 2012 over his planned execution because Louisiana was unable to obtain all of the drugs listed on the state’s protocol at the time, arguing that moving forward without all of the drugs would constitute cruel and unusual punishment and violate the U.S. Constitution.

Hoffman was convicted of the 1996 kidnapping, robbery, rape and murder of a 28-year-old New Orleans woman, Mary Elliot, according to The Advocate.

Louisiana Department of Corrections (DOC) officials have said pharmaceutical companies threatened to withhold beneficial drugs if they are used in executions, and Landry argued by agreeing not to use the drugs, the case before the court was moot.

Dick agreed, citing the DOC’s agreement to “no longer attempt to obtain execution drugs … (to) retain access to pharmaceutical products that protect the medical needs of the inmate population.”

“The pursuit of justice for the victims of our state’s most heinous crimes is no longer restricted by Hoffman legal obstacles,” Landry said in a statement Thursday. “Now, the Legislature may act to fulfill the promises our state has made to those crime victims and remove any other obstacles to carrying out the sentences imposed and affirmed by the courts.”

Landry pointed to proposed legislation he drafted in 2018 to expand methods of execution and confidentiality protections that mirror changes in other states. He noted Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas have executed inmates this year. Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas held executions in 2020.

“Louisiana has the ability to join neighboring states like Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Missouri in carrying out long-awaited justice for crime victims and their frustrated families,” he said. “I reaffirm my pledge to work with our legislators to find a way to swiftly honor the commitments our state made to those victim families.

“Our criminal justice system, the rule of law, and the rights of victims are too important to delay executions any longer,” Landry said.

Not everyone agrees.

Bills currently pending in both chambers of the Legislature would abolish the death penalty in Louisiana.

House Bill 106, sponsored by Rep. Kyle Green Jr., D-Marrero, replaces the death penalty for first-degree murder, rape and treason with the penalty of life imprisonment without the benefit of parole, probation or suspension of sentences for those crimes.

HB 106 is in the House Committee on Administration of Criminal Justice.

Senate Bill 294, sponsored by Sen. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, would eliminate the death penalty for murder, rape and treason offenses committed on or after Aug 1, 2022, and replace it with a life sentence at hard labor. Any savings to the state realized by the change would be allocated to child day care literacy programs.

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