His mother was murdered. He wants Louisiana to spare her killer’s life.

By: - August 16, 2023 6:57 am
A group of people gathered on steps holding signs opposing the death penalty.

A group gathers on the steps of the Louisiana Capitol on Aug. 15, 2023, calling for clemency for the state’s death row inmates. (Claire Sullivan/Louisiana Illuminator)

In 1996, Shareef Cousin was 16. While his peers worried about prom and house chores, he was worried about being executed for a crime he didn’t commit.

He spent three years as the youngest person on Louisiana’s death row before being freed. Cousin doesn’t say he was wrongfully convicted — he says he was framed.

On the steps of the State Capitol Tuesday, as a breeze broke the heat of an August morning, Cousin pleaded for the state pardon board to spare the lives of those condemned to death in Louisiana.

“As long as they have life, they have a chance,” said Cousin, the 77th person freed from death row in the United States. “… This is an opportunity for us as a state, as a people, as a community to choose life.”

The Louisiana Board of Pardons and Committee on Parole will consider clemency for at least 20 of the 56 people in state facing execution. Gov. John Bel Edwards is pushing board members to convert their death sentences to life in prison.

Attorney General Jeff Landry, who’s running for governor, had previously issued a non-binding opinion saying state law doesn’t allow the pardon board to ponder clemency in capital cases more than a year after a defendant exhausts all of their appeals.

The board has scheduled 20 clemency hearings for four meetings in October and November. There’s been no indication when or if the other 36 people on death row might have their sentences reconsidered.

Brett Malone’s mother, Mary Ann Shaver Malone, was killed in Bossier Parish in December 2000. He was among the two dozen people gathered Tuesday at the Capitol asking mercy for Jeremiah Manning, the man sentenced to death for abducting and killing his mother.

The 23-year journey to this point has been far from easy, he said.

“It’s normal to feel a lot of different emotions: anger, rage, a desire for vengeance, retribution,” Malone said. “But over time, those … compulses do fade away, and what’s left behind is the grief and the sorrow we have to deal with. Part of the healing is trying to reconcile what happened and trying to get to know a little bit more about the man who is responsible for my mother’s death.”

About six years ago, Malone said he decided to learn more about Manning and his life on death row. The two men haven’t been able to communicate directly with each other “because of the way the death penalty system is set up,” Malone said. He thinks that dialogue could help him find healing.

“Part of clemency is really about giving the opportunity to the survivors of these crimes to work on reconciliation, to work on healing the wounds that were created through those actions,” he said.

Mary Ann Shaver Malone wasn’t in favor of the death penalty, and neither was her mother, Brett Malone said.

“We just can’t see at this point how executing someone is going to bring any kind of closure or any kind of healing from the experience that we’ve had,” he said.

Standing on the steps with Malone was Marah Bowie. She was just a child when her brother, David Henry Bowie, was condemned to death in East Baton Rouge Parish.

“I remember waking up to news, out of my sleep with my family sobbing, that my brother had been sentenced to death,” Bowie recalled of the moment that she said still haunts her 24 years later.

They were left with many questions: When would he be killed? How? And “who was gonna punish the person that’s gonna kill him?” Bowie said.

“Two wrongs don’t make a right, so killing another human isn’t any different than a crime that they committed,” she said.

Decades later, Bowie said is still searching for answers to the difficult questions she must answer for the children of the family.

“The shadow of death isn’t just over my brother. It’s been over every generation that’s came up since the death row sentence in our family,” she said. “We’ve been forced to teach our kids coming up what it means to have a family member on death row and the purpose of death row.”

A crowd of about two dozen — including religious leaders and community activists — delivered a petition to the governor’s office with more than 2,000 signatures calling for clemency for 56 death row inmates.

All but one of the 57 people on death row at Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, filed petitions for clemency earlier in June. If granted, their death sentences will be reduced to life in prison. Their pleas came shortly after Edwards broke his silence on the death penalty this spring, saying he opposed it because of his Catholic faith.

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Claire Sullivan
Claire Sullivan

Claire Sullivan is a rising senior at LSU who has reported on the university, state government, environmental issues and civil rights era cold cases.