Louisiana Death Row Exoneree Shareef Cousin Testifies in Support of LA Anti-Death Penalty Bill
The Advocate: Louisiana lawmakers reject another attempt to abolish the death penalty, voting on party lines
By: Mark Ballard
April 19, 2022
For the fourth time since 2017, legislators refused to abolish the death penalty in Louisiana.
This year’s effort, Senate Bill 294, would have kept prosecutors from pursuing capital punishment after August 1. Voting 5-1 along party lines, the Senate Judiciary C committee decline to advance the measure.
Similar legislation, House Bill 106, hasn’t been scheduled for a committee hearing in the lower chamber.
Religious leaders, including Sister Helen Prejean who wrote “Dead Man Walking,” told the committee that Roman Catholic and Protestant leaders have come to learn that executions don't provide closure for victims’ families and puts the state in the position of killing people. Religious teachings, at least for most mainstream denominations, is about respecting individual life and, for some, contradicts “pro-life” positions.
"We're not the givers of life and I don't see an authorization to be the takers of life," said state Sen. Katrina Jackson, the Monroe Democrat who sponsored SB294. In recent years, Jackson had been the leading sponsor of Louisiana's strictest anti-abortion measures.
Jackson says she has other reasons - the number of convicts condemned by mistake, the expense, particularly in light of so few executions actually taking place. But the real reason, she said, are that the same religious beliefs that compelled her to pursue laws that throw-up hurdles to ending pregnancies. She wants convicted murderers to serve life in prison, not to be killed by the people of Louisiana.
Right before the vote was taken, state Sen. Mark Abraham, a religious Lake Charles Republican who supporters had hoped to persuade, said he respected the arguments but couldn't back abolishing the death penalty. State senator Bodi White, R-Central, capital punishment was a needed punishment for the very worst crimes.
Sixty-two inmates remain on death row at the Louisiana Penitentiary at Angola. Since 2000, nine death row inmates have been exonerated and two executed. Partially that's because a federal court in 2014 barred Louisiana from killing convicts after the state couldn't obtain the proper drugs for lethal injections.
Based on a cost analysis, a person being tried for capital punishment today would cost taxpayers about $281 million and would live on death row for about 20 years said William P. Quigley, a Loyola University New Orleans law professor.
The death penalty is being sought in a dozen cases, as of Tuesday, said Loren Lambert, former prosecutor who now heads the Louisiana District Attorneys’ association. About 30 cases are for crimes eligible for capital punishment, but a decision has not yet been made.
"What you're seeing is a very, very, deliberate approach," said Lampert, who opposed the legislation. "It is being used extremely sparingly. "
Nationally, states have been pulling back from capital punishment. In 2000, courts around the country rendered 223 death sentences and by 2021, only 18 were granted, according to the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C.
"Giving the death penalty when we're not going to implement the death penalty, that's the elephant in the room," said Sen. Beth Mizell, a Franklinton Republican who added that promising an execution that won't be delivered for years, if at all, must be difficult for the survivors of a murdered victim.
It is, said Brett Malone, who 62-year-old mother, Mary, was found murdered December 19, 2000, in woods near their home in Plain Dealing. Jeremiah D. Manning was convicted on May 6, 2002. And has been on death row in Angola in 2005. But the execution of Manning won't make Malone and his family feel any better about losing their mother.
"Retribution is not justice,” Malone said. “The execution will not bring us any peace.”
"You have an opportunity to change history,” testified Shareef Cousin, who was convicted of a March 1995 murder in the New Orleans French Quarter at the age of 16. But prosecutors never presented statements from a witness who told police that she wasn't wearing her glasses and couldn't identify the shooter.
Cousins was paroled in 2005, a few years after the Louisiana Supreme Court reversed Cousin’s conviction and ordered a new trial. Bianca Jagger, the former wife of Rolling Stones Mick Jagger, took up his case and the District Attorney’s office in New Orleans chose not to retry Cousin.
No 43 and a father in the Atlanta area, Cousin testified that the process was flawed and the innocent are subject to execution. He is the 75th condemned inmate to have been exonerated.
In 2017, a bill sponsored by then–Rep. Terry Landry, D–New Iberia and a former State Police superintendent, and then–Rep. Steve Pylant, R–Winnsboro and a former sheriff, was defeated by one vote in the House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice. Pylant voted no, saying what he really wanted was to bring attention to how taxpayers were spending $10 million a year on legal costs but executing nobody. The Senate bill by Republican Baton Rouge Sen. Dan Claitor, of Baton Rouge, a former prosecutor in New Orleans, advanced out of Senate committee but was shelved when it became clear the House criminal justice panel would vote no.
In 2018, Landry and Claitor pursued the issue again. The Senate bill cleared committee but the House measure did not.
Legislators came closest in 2019. Both bills made it to the floor of their respective chambers. Claitor’s was defeated in the Senate. Landry pulled his measure after two hours of House debate.
Voting for ending the death penalty (1): Sen. Regina Barrow, D–Baton Rouge
Voting against abolishing the death penalty (5): Chair Franklin J. Foil, R–Baton Rouge; Vice Chair Mark Abraham, R–Lake Charles; Sens Beth Mizell, R–Franklinton; Rick Ward, R–Port Allen; and Bodi White, R–Central.