KSLA News 12 Investigates: Behind the appeal that led to new trial for Shreveport father
SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - It's been a long road to freedom for Rodricus Crawford, who was released on bond Tuesday evening after spending 3 years on death row for the murder of his toddler son.
Crawford was convicted of first-degree murder in the 2012 death of 1-year-old Roderius Lott and sentenced to death in November 2013, but the Louisiana Supreme Court vacated his sentence on Nov. 16 and ordered a new trial. He was returned to Caddo Parish from Angola on Friday, where his bond was set at $50,000.
The 25-year-old Shreveport native, who also has a young daughter, posted that bond and was released from custody just a few hours later.
His freedom might only be temporary, as he faces a new trial on first-degree murder in his son's death.
It was an appeal from Crawford's defense team pointing out weaknesses in evidence during that first trial that led the Supreme Court to overturn Crawford's conviction and sentence. Among them, a lack of confession or evidence of abuse and the failure of the prosecution to establish a motive. The defense framed the case as weak and circumstantial at best.
Prosecutors said Crawford smothered his child, but defense attorneys argued it's a case that boils down to the baby's failing health.
On February 16, 2012, three 911 calls came in to emergency dispatchers. Frantic callers on three different cell phones pleaded for an ambulance, telling dispatchers that the 1-year-old boy was unresponsive. Inside the home at 6809 Broadway in Shreveport, there was chaos, crying, and confusion.
After emergency crews responded and after the scene cleared, a child was dead and Crawford was charged with first-degree murder.
Abbie Crawford says her son loved his baby and there was no way in the world he would do anything to harm him.
She says she was home that morning when family members were scrambling for help. With the help of a 911 dispatcher, she tried to revive the child with CPR but was unsuccessful.
"He ain't doing nothing ma'am," Crawford told a dispatcher.
According to court testimony, witnesses say it took about 15 minutes for EMTs to arrive at Crawford's home.
His attorney, Cecelia Kappel, says the distraught father chased down the ambulance before handing his lifeless son off to EMTs.
Video entered into evidence during the trial shows Crawford distraught in the back of a police cruiser moments after his lifeless son was taken away in an ambulance. It would be another hour before he would learn his son was dead.
That would not be the only shock for this grieving father and family.
According to the autopsy conducted by the Caddo Parish Coroner's Office, Roderius Lott died of smothering. However, defense attorneys for the child's father say the Coroner's office ignored critical evidence that the child died of natural causes.
"This was not a homicide, this child died of pneumonia and sepsis and Dr. Traylor was dead wrong," Kappel says.
Dr. Traylor was the pathologist who ruled the baby's death a homicide. When asked to comment on the autopsy, Traylor would only point to his findings submitted to the court as evidence during the trial.
In the autopsy report, Dr. Traylor cited a small cut under the baby's top lip as evidence of smothering. Defense attorneys say the injury came from a fall and was not evidence of a homicide.
They say Roderius fell down in the bathroom and cut his lip the day before he died and that the real cause of the child's death was his failing health. It's evidence they say is backed up by tissue and blood samples.
"He missed the fact that this child had brain swelling, which indicated he did not die of smothering," says Kappel. "He didn't perform testing on the bruising on the child which could have pinpointed the moment those bruises occurred instead of assuming that Mr. Crawford inflicted those injuries."
Kappel adds that Dr. Traylor testified that the little boy had pneumonia, but that it was not serious enough to kill him. When questioned on the stand about the bacteria found during the autopsy, Kappel says Traylor testified that the results would have indicated sepsis if they were accurate but also said that his needle could have been contaminated.
"So based on his testimony either this child died of sepsis and this was not a murder or his autopsy was contaminated. Either way, we can't have any confidence in this verdict," concludes Kappel.
Nine other doctors around the country agreed that Roderius Lott died from sepsis. It was a game-changer for the defense, giving them the cause for appeal before the Louisiana Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court had to consider the questions surrounding the evidence presented at trial to support the conviction that allowed Crawford to be sentenced to death.
In their appeal, defense attorneys argued the cards were stacked against their client from the beginning because of his race, the fact that he was unemployed, and still lived at home with this mother.
"He is given a presumption that he is a criminal element based on his race and socioeconomic status," says Kappel. "I think the result would have been very different if he were white. I think the result would have been very different if he was middle-class African American. In this case, he was presumed to be a criminal."
Crawford's defense team also argued that prosecuting attorney Dale Cox struck people from the jury based on race. The justices ultimately agreed, vacating Crawford's capital conviction and ordering a new trial.
Cox left the Caddo Parish District Attorney's office last fall after his record on pursuing the death penalty and questions about a disparity in the prosecution of cases based on race attracted national headlines, including a New York Times article that quoted a memo in which Cox wrote that Crawford "deserves as much physical suffering as it is humanly possible to endure before he dies."
Dale Cox could not be located for comment on the latest developments in the case.
No new trial date has been set. Crawford is due back in court in January for more pre-trial hearings.
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