On Sept. 7, 2016, the Louisiana Supreme Court will hear the capital appeal of 25-year-old Rodricus Crawford. I spent three months investigating his case, interviewing 10 people, including the district attorney and Crawford’s appellate attorney, as well as reading all of the appellate briefs and expert affidavits. I concluded Crawford was railroaded. At every turn he was presumed guilty and ultimately convicted of the death of his 1-year-old son who medical experts say died of pneumonia. This is one in a series of articles examining how easy it is for a Black man to end up on death row.
Rodricus Crawford was 23 and living with his mother, who was also boarding other relatives needing a place to live. The habitual marijuana smoker had never had a real job. On the other hand, he’d never been in real trouble — Crawford’s criminal record consisted of weed possession charges. This in spite of growing up in a neighborhood known for poverty, drug trafficking and violence.
He and a young woman he’d known since grade school had a baby together. Lakendra Lott had psychological problems and was routinely a patient on the “10th floor,” her family’s reference to the mental ward at the local hospital. The two made it work with baby Roderius (Bobo) going back and forth between the two. On Feb. 7, 2012, they celebrated the baby’s first birthday. A week later, their lives fell apart.
Feb. 16, 2012
The family awoke around 7 a.m. to Crawford “hollering and screaming.”
Crawford’s mother ran into his room and found him standing with Roderius in his arms, yelling “look at the baby, look at the baby, what’s wrong with Bobo, something is wrong with Bobo.”
Crawford’s uncle calls 911 while his mother and sister try administering CPR.
Paramedics determine baby Roderius has been dead more than an hour. They wait for police before telling family.
Police arrive and take both parents to the police station for questioning instead of allowing them to go to the hospital with the baby.
Crawford tells police baby Roderius hit his head and cut his lip when he falls between the toilet and the bathtub the day before.
Separately, Lott recalls same events to police. She adds that Baby Lott had a “little cold.”
A forensic pathologist performs the autopsy and determines the baby’s bruises are a result of smothering rather than the pneumonia the baby also had.
Detectives try to get Crawford to confess to waking up on top of his son. Crawford refuses.
April 20, 2012
Dale Cox, assistant district attorney, indicts Crawford for murder and seeks the death penalty.
Dale Cox has been featured in The New York Times, CBS’ “60 Minutes,” and other outlets giving the following quotes:
“I think we need to kill more people.”
“I take it as a failure that I was unable to convince the jury to kill him.”
“Over time, I have come to the position that revenge is important for society as a whole. We have certain rules that you are expected to abide by, and when you don’t abide by them you have forfeited your right to live among us.”
The “epidemic of child-killings” is the result of the “destruction of the nuclear family and a tremendously high illegitimate birth rate.”
Nov. 4-12, 2013 – The Trial
Daniel Spitz, the forensic pathologist who co-authored the pathology textbook used in many medical schools, testifies that Roderius died of pneumonia.
The jury of jury of nine Whites and three Blacks found Crawford guilty.
Crawford’s defense team, led by Black defense attorney J. Antonio Florence had been so certain no jury would find Crawford guilty that they didn’t prepare for the death penalty phase of the trial, which started the day after the verdict.
Nov. 13, 2013
In the death penalty phase, the prosecutor painted Crawford and his family as deadbeats who didn’t obey the law. In his closing, he told the jury Jesus Christ required them to sentence Crawford to death. He read this New Testament Scripture that he’d successfully used to get another black man sentenced to death: “It would be better if you were never born. You shall have a millstone cast around your neck, and you will be thrown into the sea.”
That evening, Crawford was sentenced to death and sent to Louisiana State Penitentiary, known as Angola. He is the second-youngest man on death row.
More in this series: