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

At an August 15, 2023 rally organized by The Promise for Justice Initiative, a group opposed to the death penalty and which advocates for greater change in the criminal legal system, family members of victims and prisoners and death row exoneree Shareef Cousin called on the Board of Pardons and Committee on Parole to grant the 56 clemency applications that have been submitted by prisoners on death row. 

“Part of clemency is really about giving the opportunity to the survivors of these crimes to work on reconciliation, to work on the healing of the wounds that were created through those action,” stated Brett Malone, whose mother was killed 23 years ago by a prisoner who has filed a clemency petition. “I just can’t see, at this point, how executing someone is going to bring any kind of closure or healing from the experience that we’ve had,” he said. 

Following remarks, the group delivered a 2,000-signature petition that supported commutation for every death row prisoner to the governor’s office. District Attorney Hillar Moore told WAFB that the number of signatures pales in comparison to the number of death penalty supporters in the state, stating, “It has no effect, it’s a ploy I guess for them to say these people are against it.” 

Mr. Cousin, who served as the youngest person on Louisiana death row at the age of 17, said, “This is a mission and an opportunity for me to have lived in those difficult circumstances and I have met many of the men who are asking for mercy to save their lives.” 

“We’re pleading for rightful punishment,” said Marah Bowie, sister of a death row prisoner. “This is a moment for Louisiana to truly show that we value human life…this is another example of what it means to be pro-life.” 

On August 9, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards requested the Board of Pardons and Committee on Parole to review and set hearings for 56 clemency applications filed by death-sentenced prisoners in the state. In his letter, he explained “it is important to note, the question is not whether these individuals should be set free, but whether a state-sanctioned execution meets the values of our pro-life state.” The governor’s office requires a recommendation from the Board of Pardons and Committee on Parole to grant a commutation. 

The Louisiana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers issued a public statement in support of the Governor’s actions directing review, noting that clemency power is enshrined in the state’s constitution and operates as a “critical failsafe in the justice system.”  In response to the Attorney General’s allegation that any grant of clemency would “insult the judgment” of the jury, the organization notes that “All capital juries are now instructed that the Governor may commute a death sentence to life.”    

Governor Edwards, who has already served the maximum two terms, will be leaving office in January 2024. Current Attorney General Jeff Landry, who is running for governor, has called the clemency applications untimely and has advised that none are eligible for clemency.