SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - "A slap in the face." That's how Albert Culbert feels about the federal court ruling last week that sided with 3 convicted killers who sued over conditions on Louisiana's death row.
Three inmates, Elzie Ball, Nathaniel Code and James Magee claimed in their civil rights lawsuit that they are being forced to live in extreme and dangerous heat, conditions so hot that they say it violates constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment. The three men have been convicted of killing 11 people all together.
Nearly two decades ago, Culbert's brother, sister, niece and friend were murdered by convicted Shreveport serial killer Nathaniel Code.
On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson agreed, and ordered the state corrections department and the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola to give him a plan to cool the cells so the heat index never goes above 88 degrees.
In the ruling and order document Judge Jackson explained, "This Court determines that sanctions against Defendants are warranted based on Defendants' willful, bad faith attempts to manipulate data critical to Plaintiffs' cause of action and for abuses of the discovery process."
According to the document, Jackson is referring to "the installation of awnings and soaker hoses on selected death row tiers" during the court ordered data collection period of measuring the temperature, humidity, and heat index in the death row tiers. Jackson recommends the defendants be "sanctioned for spoliation of evidence."
The inmates, who were plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed with the help of the non-profit "Promise of Justice" initiative, have high blood pressure and other health ailments that their lawyers said could be worsened by heat.
"We are grateful that the Court has recognized the gravity of the situation that our clients were facing," said Mercedes Montagnes, Deputy Director of PJI. "This case specifically did not seek money. We only wanted the temperatures to be controlled to prevent serious health risks. The Promise of Justice Initiative stands ready to work with Judge Jackson and the Department of Corrections to ensure that no inmate on Death Row suffers extreme heat that violates the Constitution."
Culbert says Code doesn't deserve the right to feel comfortable. "They lost that when they decided to take someone's life."
"Sitting in a jail cell, because you don't have air conditioning, that's not cruelty, what he did to my sister, that was cruelty, what he did to Debra Ford and all those other people he killed, that's cruelty," said Culbert.
"These advocates [PJI] are protecting a monster," said Linda Logan, whose little sister Debra Ford was murdered by Code. She says the judges ruling felt like a stab in the heart.
"If it was their sister, their child, their momma that Nathaniel Code murdered, would these advocates would these judges, be so lenient?" said Logan.
"They need to look at Nathaniel Code for what he is, a monster," she added.
Prison officials argued the conditions are safe. Pam Laborde, spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections, says the agency expects to appeal the judge's ruling.
Code, terrorized Shreveport's Cedar Grove more than 2 decades ago. He was convicted of brutally murdering 4 people, but prosecutors proved he killed 8, including 2 children.