BATON ROUGE, La. — A court order blocking Louisiana from carrying out any executions has been extended indefinitely after the death of the federal judge who issued it.
A lawsuit challenging the state’s lethal injection protocols has kept death sentences on hold since 2014. U.S. District Judge James Brady, who died Dec. 9 after a brief illness, oversaw the lawsuit and agreed to order the temporary stay of all executions.
Brady’s order was due to expire next Monday, but U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick agreed Thursday to extend it until another judge is assigned to the lawsuit. The case was reassigned to Friday to Dick, who will decide later on the next steps in the case.
Louisiana has 72 inmates on death row, according to state corrections department spokesman Ken Pastorick. The state’s last execution was in January 2010, when prison officials put to death Gerald Bordelon, who was convicted of killing his 12-year-old stepdaughter in 2002.
Drug shortages have forced the corrections department to rewrite its execution plan several times since 2010. Under the state’s current execution protocols, its primary method is a single-drug injection of pentobarbital, a powerful sedative. The alternative method is a two-drug combination of the painkiller hydromorphone and the sedative midazolam. Pastorick said the corrections department doesn’t have any of those drugs in its inventory.
The most recent order that Brady issued to halt executions — at the request of Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office — is limited to death row inmates who are plaintiffs in the litigation. But others can join the lawsuit if an execution date is set by the courts.
In 2016, Landry’s office asked for an 18-month extension to an order that delayed the execution of Christopher Sepulvado. Landry’s office said in a court filing that it would be “prudent” to extend the order given the litigation’s “fluid state” at the time.
Sepulvado was convicted of first-degree murder for fatally beating and scalding his 6-year-old stepson, Wesley Mercer, at his Mansfield home in 1992. Sepulvado repeatedly hit the boy on the head with a screwdriver handle and then immersed him in a bathtub filled with scalding water after the child came home from school with soiled pants.