State logo for Louisiana with White Pelican, "Union, Justice, Confidence"

Homononsapiens, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://​cre​ativecom​mons​.org/​l​i​c​e​n​s​e​s​/​b​y​-​s​a/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

On September 12, 2023, East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore filed a request for injunctive relief, asking the 19th Judicial District Court to vacate hearings scheduled for three East Baton Rouge Parish prisoners who have requested clemency. In June 2023, 51 death-sentenced individuals filed clemency applications with the Louisiana Board of Pardons and Committee on Parole, requesting a commutation of their death sentences to life without parole. Five additional applications from death row prisoners have since been submitted to the Board. DA Moore’s motion comes in response to the Board’s decision to set hearings for 20 of the 56 clemency applicants, which were scheduled at the urging of Governor John Bel Edwards.

DA Moore argues that the clemency process is moving too quickly. He asks the court “to void the Board’s decision to set these death row defendants for commutation hearings and ensure that any further decisions are in accordance with established law, rules, and policies.” Following the submission of his filing, DA Moore also criticized the attorneys representing those on Louisiana’s death row. “The filing of these applications was for the benefit of individual defendants and to the emotional detriment of victims’ families, and it appears that the timing of the filings was calculated to take advantage of an individual’s personal opinion during the term of his position as governor,” DA Moore said. In March 2023, Gov. Edwards spoke publicly about his opposition to capital punishment at a seminar at Loyola University in New Orleans. Gov. Edwards told attendees that “the death penalty is so final. 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 clemency applications highlight longstanding problems with Louisiana’s death penalty system, including racial disparities in sentencing, geographic arbitrariness, and the prevalence of wrongful convictions. In a statement from Cecelia Kappel, the Executive Director of the Louisiana Capital Appeals Project, she writes that DA Moore’s “lawsuit is just another baseless attempt to block the Pardon Board and Governor Edwards from taking a close look at Louisiana’s broken death penalty system. Mr. Moore is well aware that the cases involve serious problems, including innocence, intellectual disability, serious mental illness, racism, youth, and egregious prosecutorial misconduct. The Board should proceed with hearings, and the Governor will then be able to consider any recommendations of clemency the Board makes.”

Since the initial filing of clemency applications, the Louisiana District Attorneys’ Association, as well as Attorney General Jeff Landry, have adamantly protested the prisoners’ requests. AG Landry previously stated his objections in a non-binding letter to the Board, arguing that a one-year statute of limitations prevented the Board from considering the applications. In DA Moore’s motion, he argued that it is “reckless” for the Board to review the clemency applications in three to four months when it normally takes a year to do so. In a statement following his filing, DA Moore said that his “petition [to halt the proceedings] is not about the propriety of the death penalty, nor an attack on the Pardon Board or Governor, but simply about following the rule of law and not advocating end runs around the law which undermine our system of justice and put individuals’ values before others’ rights. The petition represents the real death row victims killed over the past several decades and whose families are still living with their loss.”