Court throws out conviction in controversial death sentence

NEW ORLEANS (AP) " The Louisiana Supreme Court on Wednesday threw out the conviction and death sentence of a man whose case drew national attention to the state's use of the death penalty.

In its decision , the court said it was sending the case of Rodricus Crawford back to a lower court for a new trial, citing racial discrimination issues in the prosecution's picking of jurors.

"I am so thankful that they did the right thing in this case. It was a terrible tragedy since Day 1, and his conviction was a total injustice and the court really stepped up and fixed it, and I am looking forward to continuing to work with the DA's office in order to reach a just outcome," said Cecelia Kappel, Crawford's attorney.

She said she had spoken to Crawford's family who called the court's decision "a miracle."

The case put Caddo Parish and former District Attorney Dale Cox in the spotlight over the use of the death penalty. The Death Penalty Information Center included Caddo Parish in a 2013 report about how 2 percent of U.S. counties were responsible for 56 percent of the people on death row.

The Crawford case has drawn particular scrutiny, with defense attorneys and Crawford's supporters arguing there's no proof a crime even occurred.

Crawford was convicted of murdering his 1-year-old son. He told authorities he'd been sleeping next to his son and woke up to find him unresponsive in 2012. Prosecutors argued that Crawford smothered the boy. But the defense argued the boy had pneumonia and could have died from natural causes.

Defense attorneys also challenged the prosecution's exclusion of certain African-American jurors, and in the end the judges tossed out the conviction on that issue. But Kappel said she was heartened by the fact that some of the justices wanted to go even further and throw the case out for lack of evidence.

It was not immediately clear what the Caddo Parish district attorney's office would do next. A new district attorney was elected last year after Cox decided not to run for election; James E. Stewart became the parish's first black DA.

In a statement, Stewart did not say whether he would immediately push for a new trial. Noting the opinions of justices who wanted to acquit Crawford, Stewart said he would send it to a new assistant district attorney "...for re-evaluation of case in order to make a determination of a proper course of action to proceed forward in this matter."

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Follow Santana on Twitter @ruskygal.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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