BATON ROUGE, La. — A biased autopsy and a prosecutor’s racism and religious fervor corrupted the murder case against a black man freed from Louisiana’s death row, a federal lawsuit says.
Rodricus Crawford, 29, sued the Caddo Parish coroner and district attorney’s offices last Thursday, one year after the Louisiana Supreme Court overturned his first-degree murder conviction in the death of his 1-year-old son.
Crawford’s lawsuit claims authorities recklessly disregarded medical evidence that his son, Roderius Lott, had pneumonia and died of natural causes. Investigators accused Crawford of smothering the child at their Shreveport home in February 2012.
The suit also says Crawford was deprived of a fair trial by a prosecutor with a “racist world view” who followed a “biblical command” to secure the death penalty against black defendants.
That prosecutor, former acting District Attorney Dale Cox, is an outspoken advocate of the death penalty who told a reporter he believes the state needs to “kill more people.” Cox personally prosecuted one-third of the Louisiana cases that resulted in death sentences between 2010 and 2015, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
Caddo Parish has a “well-known history of racism and the arbitrary application of the death penalty,” the lawsuit says.
The night before his son’s death, Crawford and the child were sleeping in a fold-out couch. Relatives called 911 after Crawford woke up the next morning and noticed his son wasn’t moving or breathing.
The parish coroner had a “preconceived suspicion” that the child had been smothered to death based on the family’s race and neighborhood where they lived, the suit says. The forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy didn’t take routine tissue samples that would have shown the timing of the child’s injuries, the suit says. The pathologist also falsely claimed that bacteria found in the child’s blood may have come from a contaminated sample, it adds.
Their “preconceived expectations and theories were based on race and racism, and they operated with deliberate indifference to these accepted professional standards of practice,” the lawsuit says.
The suit describes Crawford as a “proud and loving father” and accuses Cox of falsely portraying him as an absentee dad during his trial.
“This argument was based on racial stereotypes and animus, and not upon the facts of this case,” it says.
Cox said Monday that he hadn’t seen the lawsuit and couldn’t comment on its allegations. John Prime, a spokesman for both the coroner and district attorney’s offices, said he can’t comment on pending litigation.
James Stewart, who also is named as a defendant in the suit, became the first black district attorney in Caddo Parish after Cox decided not to run for election.
Crawford was sentenced to death in November 2013 and remained on death row until the state Supreme Court reversed his conviction last year. The district attorney’s office declined to retry him.