Inmate attorneys praise plans to cool death row

A plan the state proposed last month to lower the summer heat inside death row at the Louisiana State Penitentiary by adding air conditioning and other measures earned high marks Monday from attorneys for three condemned Louisiana men.

Attorneys representing death-row inmates Elzie Ball, Nathaniel Code and James Magee — who sued the state in June — urged Chief U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson to order implementation of the plan.

But a spokeswoman for the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections said the state is appealing Jackson’s December order that the state draft a plan to cool down death row at Angola.

The state’s proposed heat remediation plan, filed Feb. 17, includes an air-conditioning system, once-daily cold showers and chests filled with ice to cool death-row inmates.

Jackson toured the prison last summer and ruled Dec. 19 that heat indices inside death row amount to cruel and unusual punishment, which is forbidden by the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“Plaintiffs find that Defendants’ plan proposes an adequate remedy for the violation of their Eighth Amendment rights,” the attorneys for Ball, Code and Magee stated Monday in a response to the state’s plan.

The plan would retrofit the existing heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system on death row to add prefabricated cooling units to the ductwork, according to the inmates’ attorneys.

The plaintiffs’ expert agrees with the state’s engineering expert that “this is the most practical and effective way to maintain a heat index below 88 degrees,” the inmates’ attorneys acknowledge in their court filing.

Jackson required the state to ensure heat indices inside death row — how hot it actually feels — don’t surpass 88 degrees.

“Defendants’ plan is cost-effective because it depends largely on utilizing existing systems within the facility, and … it is the most straightforward and practical way to alleviate the unsafe heat conditions during the summer on Death Row,” the inmates’ attorneys add.

In fact, if Jackson orders the use of air conditioning, cooling showers won’t be necessary, the attorneys said.

The death-row tiers are only heated and ventilated.

The inmates’ lawsuit claims the oppressive heat exacerbated their medical conditions and violated their constitutional rights. The suit alleged heat indices on death row reached 172 degrees in 2012 and 195 degrees in 2011.

The state maintains the inmates have not suffered adverse health affects due to their conditions of confinement.

Magee was convicted for the 2007 shotgun murders of his estranged wife, Adrienne Magee, and their 5-year-old son, Zach, on a street in the Tall Timbers subdivision north of Mandeville.

Ball was found guilty of fatally shooting beer deliveryman Ben Scorsone during the 1996 armed robbery of a lounge in Gretna.

Code was convicted and condemned for the 1985 murders of four people at a house in Shreveport. He drowned Vivian Chaney in her bathtub; stabbed and slashed to death Chaney’s 17-year-old daughter, Carlitha; and shot to death Vivian Chaney’s brother, Jerry Culbert, and her boyfriend, Billy Joe Harris.