Louisiana has dismissed all charges against a man who spent several years on death row after the his infant son died in 2012, in a case that drew national attention to a parish that sentenced young black men to death at an unusually high rate.
Rodricus Crawford, 28, a resident of Caddo Parish, La., in the northwestern corner of the state, was sentenced to death in 2013 after prosecutors argued that he had suffocated his son. But Louisiana’s supreme court threw out his conviction in November after finding that the jury selection in his case may have been racially biased. Mr. Crawford was released from prison later that month.
In a statement announcing that it would not retry Mr. Crawford, the Caddo Parish District Attorney’s Office acknowledged evidence suggesting that at the time of death, his son had pneumonia and bacteria in his blood that indicated sepsis. The state said that it could not meet the burden of proof to gain a new conviction for Mr. Crawford.
Cecilia Kappel, one of Mr. Crawford’s lawyers, described him in an interview on Thursday as someone who should never have been facing such a stark sentence to begin with.
“They can’t even justify prosecuting this guy for negligent homicide, let alone capital murder,” she said. “It shows the arbitrariness of the death penalty.
“Now he’s having to start from zero at 28 years old,” she added.
From 2010 to 2014, among counties with four or more death sentences, more people were sentenced to to be executed per capita in Caddo Parish than in any other county in the United States. Many of those cases were prosecuted by Dale Cox, whose conduct attracted national interest after he told The Shreveport Times in a 2015 interview that Louisiana should “kill more people.”
Mr. Cox, who returned to the district attorney’s office full-time in 2011 and became the parish’s acting district attorney in 2015, prosecuted four of the 16 people sent to death row from Caddo Parrish in those years.
Mr. Cox, who could not be reached for comment, gained a reputation for inflammatory comments and behavior inside and outside the courtroom, and was even accused of threatening opposing lawyers. In Mr. Crawford’s case, according to The New Yorker, he wrote a letter to state’s probation department asking that the convicted man be forced to endure “as much physical suffering as it is humanly possible to endure before he dies.”
Robert Dunham, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, who has tracked Mr. Crawford’s case closely, said that Mr. Cox’s behavior could not be understood outside the context of Caddo Parish, pointing toward the county’s long history of lynchings and to a monument to the Confederacy that sits right outside its courthouse, as well as its brief status as a Confederate capital. He said a Confederate flag continued to fly on the monument as recently as 2011.
“When one black juror expressed his displeasure at that, he was excused for cause,” Mr. Dunham said, referring to a case that was not Mr. Crawford’s. “They found that his objection to the Confederate flag was reason enough for him not to serve on a jury.”
Caddo Parish even captured the attention of the United States Supreme Court. In a 2016 dissent to a ruling on another Caddo Parish case, Justice Stephen G. Breyer noted that the parish “imposes almost half the death sentences in Louisiana, even though it accounts for only 5 percent of that state’s population and 5 percent of its homicides.”
“Given these facts,” he continued, the defendant in the case in question, “may well have received the death penalty not because of the comparative egregiousness of his crime, but because of an arbitrary feature of his case, namely, geography.”