18 May 1990 – Dalton Prejean
Let’s get one thing straight, it was a callous crime – he’d shot a traffic cop in the face all because he had been stopped for a broken brake light.
Prejean wasn’t a saint by any stretch – he’d shot a taxi driver and spent 30 months in remand school for murder as a younger teenager. But we’re talking about someone who had an IQ of around 71 (some reports say 76) – he’d been left brain damaged following family abuse as a child. His aunt had beaten him while he was growing up.
All this mitigating history was withheld from the all-white jury, prompting concerns that Prejean had not had an adequate defence during his trial. Indeed, after he was sentenced to die, his incredulity stayed with him, prompting him in later life to question why the victim’s family had not questioned the harsh sentence.
‘To the Cleveland family, they say it wasn’t revenge, but it’s hard for me to understand. I hope they’re happy.’
But it turns out that murdered traffic cop, Donald Cleveland’s widow wasn’t happy either. Candy Cleveland was against the penalty, but the thought of parole left her cold too. ‘There’s always possibility of good times, good behaviour. Who knows in 20 or 30 years Prejean could be back on the street.’
No chance, according to the Governor of Louisiana, whose stance was far clearer cut. ‘On behalf of 780 state troopers and thousands of police officers who put their lives on the line every day, the execution will proceed,’ said Buddy Roemer.
And proceed it did, despite remonstrances from the likes of the EU. Prejean was executed aged 30, he died wanting ‘to have a chance at life. To live with [his] mistakes,’ vowing that he’d changed and grown up a lot in that time.
Where Prejean was concerned, we will never know, because he was strapped to Louisiana’s electric chair on this day in 1990.