Study commission looking at how much Louisiana's use of capital punishment costs taxpayers



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BATON ROUGE, Louisiana — A New Orleans state senator is trying to determine how much Louisiana agencies spend on the death penalty.

Sen. J.P. Morrell, a Democrat, is leading a new study commission looking at capital punishment. The panel held its first meeting Wednesday.

Morrell, a former public defender, said he wants to find ways to streamline the process for dealing with capital cases, litigation that can span decades. He said having reliable data is critical to decision-making.

"We've had an ongoing debate over years regarding what the potential costs or repercussions are of having capital punishment in the state of Louisiana," Morrell said. "State resources continue to dry up. Decisions have to be made on how we prioritize funding."

But tensions were obvious at the opening meeting of the commission, which includes people who support and oppose the death penalty. Those present included lawmakers, budget analysts as well as officials from the legislative auditor's office and the corrections department.

While several members of the panel suggested they would be looking for cost-savings ideas, John Sinquefield, a long-time prosecutor who handled capital murder cases, gave a lengthy explanation of his support for the death penalty.

"I'll be looking to see this committee gives proper attention to the effects of these monsters that we have in our society and comparing what we spend in state government ... to protecting ourselves and having an effective death penalty against these monsters," he said.

Louisiana's last execution was in 2010, and plans for the next lethal injection have been put on hold amid an ongoing legal dispute about the drugs that would be used. More than 80 people are on death row, awaiting execution, in Louisiana.

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