Inmate: La. lethal injection cruel, unusual

A death row inmate at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola wants a Baton Rouge federal judge to throw out the state’s lethal injection process as cruel and unusual punishment.

The inmate, Jessie Hoffman, 34, was convicted in St. Tammany Parish 14 years ago for the November 1996 kidnap, robbery, rape and murder of Mary “Molly” Elliot.

Hoffman has no scheduled execution date, Pam Laborde, communications director for the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections, said in an email Friday.

Amanda P. Larkins, communications director for the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office, said in an interview late Friday that officials had no comment on Hoffman’s request to U.S. District Judge James J. Brady.

Hoffman was an 18-year-old New Orleans parking garage employee when the crime took place on Nov. 27, 1996, court records show. Elliot, 28, was an advertising executive who regularly parked her sports car at the garage whenever she was at her Camp Street office, court records show.

Although Elliot worked in New Orleans, her residence was near Covington in St. Tammany Parish.

When the Louisiana Supreme Court denied Hoffman’s appeal in December 2008, justices wrote that trial evidence “showed that Jessie Hoffman kidnapped Ms. Elliot at gunpoint, in her own car, as she was leaving the … parking garage after a long day at work.

“Hoffman then forced Ms. Elliot, at gunpoint, to drive to an ATM machine to withdraw money from her account so that he could rob her,” the justices wrote. “The ATM video tape shows the terror on Ms. Elliot’s face as she withdrew money from her account, and Hoffman can be seen standing next to his victim.”

Hoffman then forced Elliot to drive to a remote area of St. Tammany Parish, where, according to Hoffman’s account, he had consensual sex with Elliot, the justices wrote. The jury did not believe Hoffman and added aggravated rape as an aggravating circumstance to Elliot’s murder, the justices wrote.

“Even after kidnapping, robbing, and raping Ms. Elliot, all of which were done at gunpoint, Hoffman did not allow her to leave,” the justices wrote. “Instead, he forced her, while she was still completely nude … to get out of her car and march down a dirt path, which was overgrown with vegetation and in an area full of trash used as a dump.

“Her death march ultimately ended at a small, makeshift dock at the end of this path, where she was forced to kneel and shot in the head, execution style,” the justices wrote.

Court records show the Louisiana Supreme Court first affirmed Hoffman’s conviction and sentence on April 11, 2000. Records also show the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider Hoffman’s appeal on Oct. 16, 2011.

On March 29 of this year, U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle, of New Orleans, dismissed Hoffman’s request for further review of his conviction and sentence. That request was filed by Sarah L. Ottinger and Caroline Wallace Tillman, attorneys with the New Orleans office of the nonprofit Capital Appeals Project.

“There is no dispute that Hoffman robbed, kidnapped, raped and killed Molly Elliot,” Lemelle wrote, as he rejected a series of defense arguments, including that lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment.

“The Louisiana procedure, which provides ample safeguards such as IV technicians and warden supervision, is constitutional under prevailing federal law, as established by the U.S. Supreme Court,” Lemelle concluded.

Ottinger and Tillman are asking the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn Lemelle’s decision.

In Baton Rouge late Thursday, Houston attorney Michael D. Rubenstein, along with New Orleans attorney Cecelia Trenticosta Kappel, of The Promise of Justice Initiative, filed suit against Louisiana on Hoffman’s behalf. They alleged that the state lacks a sufficient supply of sodium thiopental to ensure that lethal injections of pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride will not subject Hoffman to a silent, but savagely painful death.

Rubenstein and Kappel told Brady, the judge, that all three ingredients must be used to prevent an inmate from suffering “excruciating pain” while mute and paralyzed.

Since July, Hoffman’s attorneys wrote in his suit, officials of the Louisiana Department of Corrections have declined to provide the recipe used for the killer cocktail at Angola’s executions.

For that reason, Hoffman’s attorneys argued, the inmate does not know “whether he may be compelled to undergo unconstitutional pain and torture upon his execution.”