All but one of Louisiana’s death row inmates are trying to persuade Gov. John Bel Edwards and the clemency board to commute their sentences to life in prison, ahead of a possible transfer of political power that could see the state resume executions in 2024. Fifty-six of the 57 prisoners sentenced to death have made a rare mass petition for mercy, reports The Guardian. They are asking Edwards, who is coming to the end of his term, to act on his anti-death penalty convictions and order the pardons board to consider their pleas. If board recommends clemency, Edwards would have the power to take the 55 men and one woman off death row and place them on life without parole.
Such a move would be game-changing for the death penalty, advocacy groups say. “This large clemency effort is historic and important,” said Samantha Kennedy of the Promise of Justice Initiative in New Orleans. “Commuting these death sentences would be a model for the south, and give a big push to the move away from capital punishment in the U.S.” Impetus for the petition came in March, when Edwards for the first time since he became governor in 2016 expressed his opposition to the death penalty. He cited the risk of executing innocent people, and said the practice of taking lives in the name of justice offended his Catholic faith. Edwards must move within two weeks to instruct the clemency board, whose five members he appoints, to hold hearings on each of the 56 applications if there is to be any chance of success before he leaves the governor’s mansion in January. The petition faces a formidable adversary in Jeff Landry, Louisiana’s attorney general, who is competing to replace Edwards as governor. Landry is a supporter of capital punishment who said that should he win, he would to restart executions next year. Louisiana last executed a prisoner in 2010. Executions have stalled because of the scarcity of lethal injection drugs caused by an international blockade of death penalty states. Landry would bypass the shortage by bringing back the firing squad and electric chair.