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In Louisiana, Ruling Casts Doubt On New Execution Methods

A ruling by a Louisiana state court judge is raising doubts about whether or not the state can implement new execution methods that were approved by the legislature earlier this year, reports. Louisiana Governor Jeff Landry signed a law in March that allows  electrocution and nitrogen gas to be used for executions in the state. But a judge out of Jefferson Parish ruled recently in the case of a man potentially facing the death penalty that the new methods are unconstitutional, because they are more severe than lethal injection. Because the ruling wasn’t appealed, it has no weight outside of that single courtroom, but capital defense advocates say the ruling is a harbinger of what is to come, and that the same prohibition on "ex post facto" laws would bar the state from electrocuting or gassing any of the 57 people now on death row in Louisiana or awaiting capital trials .“You can’t do this,” said Richard Bourke, one of Neveaux’s attorneys. “It is an obvious violation of federal and state constitutions and should never have been passed.” Bourke noted that the state “expressly got rid of electrocution because lethal injection is more humane.” 

The new law, Act 5, came out of Landry's special session on crime. It leaves the choice of execution methods to the state corrections secretary. The act also added layers of secrecy to the state’s procurement of lethal drugs, which remain in short supply. Supporters have argued that more options are needed to jumpstart an execution chamber left dormant for 14 years. But the law in effect at the time of the crime is what applies, said Cecelia Kappel, director of the Capital Appeals Project. “Any law that makes the penalty worse or more onerous is an ex post facto law as applied to you,” Kappel said. “When the sentence is less humane, more painful... that sentence can’t be applied to you.”


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