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Federal Judge Extends Stay of Executions in Louisiana

by Betty Nelander

Louisiana’s 71 death-row prisoners are in limbo after a federal judge in that state ordered that a stay of executions be extended at least until July 18, 2019.

The order by U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick was requested by the state. To continue with litigation challenging the state’s lethal injection protocol, said state’s attorney Jeffrey Cody, would be “a waste of resources and time” because “facts and issues involved in this proceeding continue to be in a fluid state.”

That protocol calls for a one-drug injection (pentobarbital) and a two-drug backup combo (the painkiller hydromorphone and the sedative midazolam), but the drugs are not in the state inventory for executions. The state hasn’t been able to acquire the drugs because manufacturers don’t want to sell them for the procedure. And there is no legislation for alternative types of execution.

State Attorney General Jeff Landry, a Republican, blames Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, for foot-dragging on the issue and points out that Texas carried out seven executions the first six months of the year. There were eight through July 17.

“Edwards countered that Landry is using the state’s difficulty with executions to score political points, but the governor has also declined to say whether he supports the death penalty at all,” according to Times-Picayune.

Landry has said he would no longer represent the state Department of Corrections in its lawsuit.

According to The Times-Picayune, “A 2016 study by researchers at the University of North Carolina, found that 127 of the 155 death penalty cases resolved in Louisiana from 1976 through 2015 ended with a reversal of the sentence—an 82 percent reversal rate that is nearly 10 points above the national average. Since 2000, seven people on death row have been exonerated while only two have been executed.”

The state of Louisiana is more transparent about the source of execution drugs as the result of a lawsuit brought by two death row prisoners several years ago, but Texas keeps it secret because of a law its legislature passed in 2015. Landry has not said whether he would seek a similar bill in Louisiana. It is also unknown whether legislation will be introduced in 2019 to allow nitrogen hypoxia as an alternative to lethal injection; Oklahoma, for example, is working to develop a protocol for it. In a tweet, Landry said he supported the death penalty by “lethal injection, gas, hanging, and firing squad.”

Some states use compounding pharmacies to obtain execution drugs. In May, the Texas Supreme Court declared that the prison system must name its lethal injection supplier.

By July 18, 2019, it will have been nearly a decade since the last execution in Louisiana, which occurred January 7, 2010. A three-drug cocktail was used. 

Sources:, Times-Picayune 


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