On October 13, 2023, after a brief administrative hearing, the Louisiana Board of Pardons and Committee on Parole denied clemency hearings for five of the 56 death-sentenced prisoners seeking clemency before Governor John Bel Edwards leaves office in January 2024. The four-member panel split its vote on four of the five applications, with a majority denying the fifth application on the grounds that Winthrop Eaton is unlikely to be executed because he is mentally incompetent. Clifford Deruise, Daniel Irish, Emmett Taylor, and Antoinette Frank were denied clemency hearings despite having claims of innocence, intellectual disability, racial bias, serious trauma, and mental illness. There are currently no other hearings scheduled for the remaining petitioners. 

In August, Governor John Bel Edwards directed the Pardons and Parole Board to schedule clemency hearings for death-sentenced applicants before he leaves office in January 2024. The Governor cannot constitutionally commute any death sentence without the Board’s recommendation.  Attorney General (and Governor-elect) Jeff Landry and some state district attorneys denounced the ‘rushed’ efforts to hear the clemency applications and sued to prevent any applications from moving forward. A last-minute settlement resulted in a reduction in the number of scheduled clemency hearings from 20 to just five, all of which have now been denied.

In response to the Board’s decision, Cecelia Kappel, Executive Director of the Louisiana Capital Appeals Project, urged the Pardons and Parole Board to schedule additional hearings. “Governor Edwards’ letter to the Board in August was clear that the Board must hold clemency hearings for the individuals on death row. These hearings would have allowed all parties to be heard, including the applicants themselves. Governor Edwards must step up to clarify that he intends for the Board to hold substantive clemency hearings for all of the death row applicants before he leaves office.”

The Board declined to move forward with the five scheduled clemency hearings after just four hours of consideration, during which time they heard limited testimony from defense lawyers and victims’ families.  Mr. Deruise was found guilty and sentenced to death for the murders of an 11-month-old and another individual on a separate incident in 1995. Mr. Deruise’s family told the Board how much he has changed since his incarceration, and the extreme mental health issues he faces from repeated childhood trauma. Daniel Irish was sentenced to death in 1999 for the murder of his landlord three years earlier. His application highlighted his youthfulness and culpability, as he was just 18 years old when sentenced to death. Emmett Taylor was sentenced to death in 1997 for the killing of a pharmacy worker while stealing a drug test. His lawyers presented evidence about his intellectual disability, mental illness, brain damage, his questionable confession, and newly discovered evidence. Antoinette Frank is the only woman on Louisiana’s death row. A former NOPD officer, she was sentenced to death in 1995 for the robbery and murder of a fellow police officer and two others at a restaurant in New Orleans East. Ms. Frank’s clemency application outlined the intense sexual and psychological abuse she faced throughout her childhood and formative years. Panel member Alvin Roche told reporters that he voted against Ms. Frank’s request because he feared her eligibility for parole. Mr. Roche said, “this isn’t about being compassionate” [because] “this is about creating an avenue, an interstate for [Ms. Frank] to be released on parole.

Sister Helen Prejean, a longtime advocate for death-sentenced prisoners and an abolitionist, filed a lawsuit earlier this month accusing the Board of Pardons and Parole of violating the state’s public meetings law. She warns that Governor-elect Landry “will use his power to line people up and execute them.” Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, Louisiana has executed 28 individuals. 12 people in Louisiana have been exonerated in the same time period.