Sister Helen Prejean sues Louisiana officials over ‘secret’ settlement to slow death penalty appeals

Settlement by state leaders would slow most death penalty clemency appeals

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Wednesday 11 October 2023 23:50 BST
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Nun and famed anti-death penalty advocate Sister Helen Prejean has sued Louisiana’s prison pardon board and state attorney general Jeff Landry, arguing officials illegally agreed to halt numerous appeals from death row without the required public input.

“I’m suing the Louisiana Board of Pardons,” Ms Prejean, whose book inspired the film Dead Man Walking, wrote on X on Tuesday. “The Board held a secret meeting on September 29th in an attempt to thwart clemency hearings for 56 Louisiana death row prisoners. The secret meeting occurred in violation of Louisiana’s Open Meetings Law.”

The suit from the activist, as well as a similar action from Brett Malone, the son of a murder victim whose killer is on death row, allege that the Lousiana Board of Pardons, Attorney General Landry, and a group of prosecutors violated state open meetings laws by settling an ongoing lawsuit over an attempt by outgoing Lousiana’s governor John Bel Edwards to schedule a series of clemency hearings for 55 people on death row before he leaves office in January.

The settlement at issue, reached on 29 September, converted the hearings into administrative reviews, and pushed back the timeline of the petitions such that only five cases would be considered by the board before the governor’s term expires.

Prior to the settlement, Attorney General Landry, who is currently running for governor, sued the board, arguing it “was forced to cast aside the law, its administrative rules, and procedure, all at the behest of the outgoing governor who only recently announced his anti-death penalty stance.”

In March, Governor Edwards, citing his Catholic faith, said he was against capital punishment.

“The death penalty is so final,” he said. “When you make a mistake, you can’t get it back. And we know that mistakes have been made in sentencing people to death.”

The Independent has contacted the attorney general for comment.

The governor’s office declined to comment.

The Independent and the nonprofit Responsible Business Initiative for Justice (RBIJ) have launched a joint campaign calling for an end to the death penalty in the US. The RBIJ has attracted more than 150 well-known signatories to their Business Leaders Declaration Against the Death Penalty - with The Independent as the latest on the list. We join high-profile executives like Ariana Huffington, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, and Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson as part of this initiative and are making a pledge to highlight the injustices of the death penalty in our coverage.

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