Louisiana AG ramps up push for restart of executions
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana could find ways to carry out long-stalled death sentences if its governor wanted to follow the law, Attorney General Jeff Landry said Tuesday, adding new fuel to a clash with Gov. John Bel Edwards over capital punishment.
The Edwards’ administration fired back that Landry’s suggestions for “policy changes” are unworkable.
Landry sent a letter to Edwards recommending that the Department of Corrections could switch the drug used for lethal injection or get the Louisiana State Penitentiary’s pharmacy to make the drug, a process known as compounding.
“If you truly respect the criminal justice system, the rule of law and the rights of victims, there are a number of initial steps that can be taken,” the Republican attorney general wrote to the Democratic governor.
Natalie LaBorde, the corrections department’s deputy assistant secretary, said Tuesday that the department looked into compounding lethal injection drugs at one of Louisiana’s prison pharmacies during former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration. She said the facilities don’t meet state standards for compounding pharmacies, but she said the larger problem involves buying the ingredients.
She said pharmaceutical companies refuse to sell their products for executions. She said private pharmacists don’t want to sell ingredients to make into a lethal injection drug through a compounding pharmacy because their identities could be publicly disclosed.
“The bottom line is you have to be able to get the ingredients, which you cannot do. We can’t get anyone to sell it to us,” LaBorde said.
Lawyer Elizabeth Murrill, with Landry’s office, said she’s spoken with compounding pharmacists who say the state could order the chemicals to make a lethal injection drug “from the people who make the basic chemicals,” not a pharmacist or a drug company.
Landry, who is considered a possible challenger to the governor in the 2019 election, describes the issue as a broader concern. He said Edwards doesn’t appear interested in carrying out the death sentences.
The governor hasn’t directly answered questions about whether he supports capital punishment, saying instead that he pledged to uphold Louisiana’s laws and constitution when he took his oath of office and would follow that oath.
Louisiana’s last execution was in 2010. Both the Jindal and Edwards administrations have described difficulties obtaining the drugs for lethal injection.
Other states have had similar problems and faced lawsuits when changing the combination of drugs in response. Some states have expanded their execution methods to allow the use of gas chambers and firing squads, while states like Texas, Georgia and Virginia changed laws to shield information about the drugs they use or how they obtain them.
Louisiana would have to change its laws to use another form of execution besides lethal injection or to keep information about compounding pharmacies hidden. Landry said he supports such changes. In his letter Tuesday, he proposed draft language that lawmakers could use to allow Louisiana to execute people by hanging, firing squads or electrocution.
But the next legislative session to consider any law changes isn’t scheduled until April 2019.
The spark for this latest feud between Edwards and Landry was a federal court order earlier this month prohibiting Louisiana from carrying out any death sentences until mid-2019.
The Edwards administration asked for the extension, citing trouble getting lethal injection drugs. In response, Landry’s office said it was withdrawing from defending the corrections department against the lawsuit challenging its lethal injection protocols.
Louisiana has more than 70 inmates on death row.
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