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Co-sponsor of La. death penalty ban trounces own bill

Rep. Steve Pylant argued that although he firmly supported the death penalty, delays in carrying out executions had made it too expensive


By R.J. Rico
Associated Press

BATON ROUGE, La. — House lawmakers on Wednesday effectively killed any chance of abolishing Louisiana's death penalty this legislative session, after one representative cast the deciding vote against the measure he had co-sponsored.

A House criminal justice committee voted 9-8 against Democratic Rep. Terry Landry's bill to outlaw capital punishment for any offense committed after July 31.

This Oct. 9, 2014 file photo shows the gurney in the the execution chamber at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, Okla. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)
This Oct. 9, 2014 file photo shows the gurney in the the execution chamber at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, Okla. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

Republican Rep. Steve Pylant of Winnsboro had been a bill co-sponsor, having argued that although he firmly supported the death penalty, delays in carrying out executions had made it too expensive. Louisiana has executed one person since 2002.

Pylant, a former sheriff, said he had only co-sponsored the bill by his New Iberia colleague so he could get his frustrations heard.

"My position has never changed," Pylant told reporters after the vote. "I co-sponsored the bill because I wanted to get my message out — the fact that we're not doing it. We're spending $10 million defending people on Death Row every year and we're not executing anybody. We say we can't get the drugs to do it, but Arkansas has executed (four) in the last month. ... If I wasn't (the co-sponsor), y'all wouldn't be talking to me, right?"

Landry said Pylant's stance caught him entirely off-guard, as Pylant had never told him he was going to vote against the measure.

"The mere fact that he didn't share with me that he wasn't going to (support it), it would have changed my strategy," Landry said. "I don't think that's the way I would have conducted business with a colleague."

An identical bill by Sen. Dan Claitor, awaits Senate floor debate. But after Wednesday's hearing, the Baton Rouge Republican said it would be pointless to bring up a bill that, if it passed the Senate, would head to the House criminal justice committee.

Landry said he intended to propose another bill next year, hoping lawmakers will continue to evolve on the matter, just as he, a retired state police superintendent, has.

"We're no better off as a society with a death penalty on the books," he said.

As they urged the House committee to strike down the death penalty, Claitor and Landry cited moral concerns, questioned whether it deters crime and argued that expensive appeals were draining the state's coffers.

Among those to testify in support of the proposal was Ray Krone, a man who had been sentenced to death for a 1991 Arizona slaying and spent more than 10 years behind bars before DNA evidence exonerated him. Krone said if lawmakers and victims families' are looking for retribution, a sentence of life without parole is much worse than being sentenced to die.

"When you're sentenced to death, you make peace with death," Krone said. "If you're really about revenge, if you really want them to suffer, make them wake up each and every day in that prison cell for their rest of their life."

District attorneys and family members of victims voiced their opposition to the bill, with prosecutors arguing that it gives them an important tool to go after "the worst of the worst."

Prior to Wednesday's vote rejecting the bill, the committee agreed to an amendment by Rep. John Stefanski of Crowley that would have allowed voters to decide on the matter in an October election if the bill were to pass through the Legislature.

Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, hasn't taken a position on banning capital punishment.

Thirty-one states allow the death penalty. Louisiana's last execution took place in January 2010 after convicted murderer Gerald Bordelon waived his right to appeal. The next lethal injection planned in Louisiana is on hold at least until 2018, pending a federal lawsuit challenging the method.

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