A death row inmate convicted of the 1993 killing of a Baton Rouge police officer was denied a chance at clemency last week by the Louisiana state Board of Pardons. The decision marks the 11th straight time in a month the board has rejected such a request, following a lawsuit by Attorney General Jeff Landry seeking to stop dozens of similar clemency bids.

Only five additional applications from death row inmates will be considered through the end of the year, according to the terms of a Sept. 30 settlement that effectively ended an effort by capital defense attorneys to empty the state’s death row before Gov. John Bel Edwards, who is against capital punishment, leaves office. 

Henri Broadway was one of dozens of death row prisoners who recently filed bids for clemency as part of that effort. Broadway was sentenced to death for the murder of Baton Rouge Police Corporal Betty Smothers, who was the mother of former NFL player Warrick Dunn. 

On the night of Jan. 7, 1993, Smothers drove Kimen Lee, the manager of a grocery store where she was working an off-duty detail, to a nearby bank to make a deposit. That’s where the women were ambushed and Smothers was shot to death. Broadway maintains that he is innocent of the crime. 

Last week, his attorney appeared before the board for an administrative hearing, where members were to decide whether he could proceed to a full clemency hearing. Board members denied the hearing in a 3-2 vote. 

Louisiana has not carried out an execution since 2010 due to a shortage of lethal injection drugs. But Landry, who was elected to succeed Edwards and will take office next month, has said he wants to restart executions, floating lethal gas or firing squads as potential alternatives.

Edwards kicked off this latest death penalty battle earlier in the year when he announced his opposition to capital punishment, citing his Catholic upbringing and pro-life beliefs. That prompted capital defense attorneys to file clemency applications for 56 of the 57 people on death row. They hoped to get their clients’ cases to Edwards — who, as governor, has the power to commute a death sentence to life following a board recommendation — before he left office.

Landry and a group of pro-death penalty prosecutors, however, sued the pardon board to stop the process from moving forward. He cited a procedural bar that he said prohibits the board from considering applications more than one year after a court had ruled on motions for appeal.

That resulted in the September settlement, which limited the pardon board to considering no more than 20 clemency applications before the end of the year, and only in administrative hearings. The board would not be voting on whether to recommend clemency to the governor, only whether to move those requests to a full hearing. 

Clemency hearings can’t be scheduled any sooner than 60 days following an administrative hearing, meaning that only five of the applications — those considered in October — would have a chance of being heard.

As of Broadway’s Nov. 13 hearing, the board has rejected every request that has come before it.  

‘No more hideous crime’

Broadway has long claimed that problems with the police investigation and prosecution led to a wrongful conviction — including what he says was a coerced confession, the withholding of evidence by prosecutors, an unreliable witness and an ineffective defense counsel, among other issues.

In his clemency application asking for his sentence to be reduced to life in prison, Broadway also detailed his troubled personal history in hopes of being granted mercy. He wrote that he was traumatized as a child by his violent and abusive father, had untreated mental health issues, and struggled with alcohol and drugs, all of which led to four suicide attempts while he was a child and teenager.

But like other death-row prisoners whose cases have recently gone to the board, those arguments failed to convince enough members to grant his request for a full hearing.

“There is no more hideous crime than the murder of a police officer,” said Alvin Roche Jr., one of the three members who voted to deny Broadway a clemency hearing.

The two members who voted in favor — Tony Marabella and Bonnie Jackson — said Broadway met the qualifications necessary to hold a clemency hearing, which include a clean disciplinary record for more than two years. 

The 52-year-old inmate had only nine write-ups in more than 30 years and presented a low risk, Marabella said. He also emphasized that the board was not being asked whether to release Broadway from prison, or even whether to grant the commutation request, only whether to hold another hearing to consider his case. 

Prior to Broadway’s administrative hearing, the board rejected 10 similar requests from death row inmates at hearings on Oct. 13 and Nov. 8. Board members Roche and Curtis Fremin voted to deny in every case while Marabella approved each request. Bonnie Jackson was present for six votes and approved all but one. Board chair Sheryl Ranatza was also present for six and voted to deny in each case.

The next administrative hearing for death row prisoners is scheduled for Nov. 27. The board will consider the final two applications for Bobby Hampton and Todd Wessinger.

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Before coming to Verite, Richard A. Webster spent the past two and a half years as a member of ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network. He investigated allegations of abuse against the Jefferson Parish...