The House Committee on Administration of Criminal Justice advanced a bill Thursday that would allow parents who are convicted of killing their minor children to receive the death penalty.
House Bill 68, authored by Rep. Barbara Carpenter, D-Baton Rouge, would add minor children of the offender to the list of victims of the crime of first-degree murder.
In her opening remarks, Carpenter brought up recent cases of Louisiana parents who had killed their children and told the committee that members of her community had asked her to address the issue.
“Parents of babies have literally killed these babies, and something needs to be said or done,” Carpenter said. “Right here in Baton Rouge, the death of a 2-year-old kid. The mom got upset because the child was playing with her eyeglasses, and she hit the baby, and the baby died. The boyfriend and the mama put the baby in a suitcase, drove it to Mississippi and buried it.”
Current law includes all minors under the age of 12 on the list of victims for whom killers can receive the death penalty.
Rep. Richard Nelson, R-Mandeville, asked why the Legislature would add ages 12-18 only in cases where the victim is the child of the offender.
“If I kill my own child, now it’ll be first-degree murder if they’re 13, but if I kill somebody else’s child, it will not be first-degree murder,” Nelson said.
Carpenter replied that in her opinion, it did not matter, as “killing a child is killing a child.” But she said she wanted to address parents who deliberately kill their child.
“You just can’t go around killing children, period,” Carpenter said.
Rep. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge, opposed the bill, as she supports abolishing the death penalty.
“I just don’t believe that this is the direction that we should be going,” Marcelle said. “We should be eliminating the death penalty, period, because it doesn’t serve the purpose that we need in our state. The public defender spends millions defending people that never ever, never, ever are sentenced to death.”
Remy Starns, the State Public Defender, also brought up the cost of defending death penalty cases in his testimony to the committee.
“As the State Public Defender, I spend $7.7 million a year defending the death penalty,” he said, adding that $1.4 million of that is post-conviction. “The other $6.2 or $6.3 million is for trial-level appellate, almost none of which results in the death penalty,” Starns said.
Starns said he agreed with Marcelle.
“I think at very least, we should be reducing the number of crimes that are death penalty, not increasing,” Starns said. “We should look to address the crimes and the punishments in different ways.”
Carpenter was asked if a fiscal note had been prepared for the bill, which would show what the cost of the bill would be to the state. Carpenter said that there was not one, adding she had no interest in adding one.
Michael Cahoon, an organizer with the progressive Promise of Justice Initiative, spoke in opposition to the bill.
He said most death sentences in Louisiana “have been overturned, for some reason, be it sentencing, post-conviction exoneration, whatever the different reasons are.”
“I think making the code duplicative and kind of more muddy, will contribute to that already huge problem,” Cahoon said. “I think, for victims of these horrible crimes and their families, these shaky convictions aren’t doing them a service.”
The bill cleared committee, with just Marcelle and Rep. Joseph Marino, I-Gretna, in opposition.
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