In its new issue next week, The New Yorker will publish an important story about Caddo Parish interim District Attorney Dale Cox and the extreme racial bias of the context in which his office hands down death sentences – lots of them. It’s online now and is well worth a read.
Caddo parish and DA Cox came into the national spotlight earlier this year, when an innocent man, Glenn Ford, was released from Angola’s death row after 30 years, and the man who prosecuted him, Marty Stroud, wrote an extraordinary apology in the Shreveport Times. Cox’s reaction to the Ford exoneration was to double down on the death penalty, commenting “I think we need to kill more people.” Glenn Ford died earlier this week.
As Justice Breyer’s dissent in Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court case, Glossip v. Gross notes, America uses the death penalty in a vastly disproportionate county by county system. And of these high-use counties, according to the New Yorker, Caddo Parish, Louisiana has the distinction of sentencing more people to death per capita than any other place in America. It’s also a community deeply rooted in its own slaving past. Shreveport was the last capital of the confederacy. The Courthouse features a monument to the confederacy, including busts for four confederate generals and large stone slab with an engraving of the confederate flag – pretty tough for any activist, no matter how brave or inspired, to remove. In the antebellum period, Caddo was rife with racist terrorism and violence, with “more lynchings than all but one county in the South,” according to the New Yorker.
Most disturbingly, the New Yorker reports that “Seventy-seven per cent of those sentenced to death in the past forty years have been black, and nearly half were convicted for killing a white person. A white person has never been sentenced to death for killing a black person.”
It was in this context that Dale Cox decided to seek death against Rodricus Crawford in 2013. Crawford was sleeping in bed with his one-year old son, Roderius, when the baby died. Three doctors, including a pediatric forensic patholgist and County coroner agree that the original autopsy of Roderius was deeply flawed. The case may not be a homicide at all; the baby likely died of sepsis due to the pneumonia which the original autopsy also found but discounted, according to the article.
Instead of weighing the available medical evidence, Cox chose to view the case as a homicide. Cuts on Roderius’ mouth were determined to have been the result of smothering, and were not tested for age so that the family’s claim, supported by both the mother and father, that Roderius had recently gotten the cuts in a minor fall, could not be confirmed.
One of the most disturbing things in the article is that the racial bias in the case began to take shape even before the baby was declared dead. As soon as the 911 operator was called (and they were called repeatedly by the frantic family), a dispatcher is recorded as saying, “There’s a hundred folks in that damn house.”
Keeping the dead baby in the ambulance, emergency personnel refused to tell the distraught mother, father, grandmother and uncles why they weren’t going to the hospital and what the prognosis for the baby was. Instead, responders felt they were being surrounded by a mob, and left the scene with no explanation to the family. They said to their dispatcher, “If the crowd gets bad, we don’t have anything – there’s no protection,” and drove away, later citing their safety concerns.
As is well known, a prosecutor’s job is to use the resources of the state to determine as much as possible about potential criminal cases and to seek justice on behalf of the public. But as the article, and his subsequent reaction shows, Dale Cox has a major issue with family structures, and in particular, the kind of family structure in Rodricus Crawford’s family and many other families.
Telling the New Yorker that “‘the destruction of the nuclear family and a tremendously high illegitimate birth rate’ have brought about an ‘epidemic of child killings,’ he also reiterated this claim when a local news station asked him yesterday about the New Yorker article, saying, “Once you destroy that fundamental essence that we built our civilization on, the rest is sure to follow.” He has also said that “[w]e’re not considered a society anymore – we’re a jungle.”
During Rodricus Crawford’s’ trial, Cox hammered his mother about her son’s marijuana use and unemployment. Like 40% of his classmates at his high school, according to the article, Rodricus didn’t graduate. He is now the second-youngest man on death row.
One of Crawford’s attorneys, J. Antonio Florence, who is black, became so frustrated by Cox’s questioning that,
“[when cross-examination was over, Florence approached the witness stand and said, ‘Ms. Abbie, was this just another black boy, worth nothing, at your house?’
Cox objected, and the judge accused Florence of inserting race into the proceedings. ‘It was something that welled up in me,’ Florence told me later. ‘If we’re going to talk about it, let’s talk about it, because that’s what you’re doing. You’re just leaving out the word ‘nigger’ but the jury can see past the code.'”
This March, Crawford’s request for a new trial based on the medical evidence was denied. A month later, the District Attorney of Caddo died and Dale Cox was appointed interim DA. He will be running for re-election in October. His enthusiasm for the death penalty is well known, since he has commented publicly several times that, although he concedes it serves no deterrent value, it “brings to us a visceral satisfaction.”
Cox also wrote to the state’s probation officer, saying “I am sorry that Louisiana has adopted lethal injection as the form of implementing the death penalty. Mr. Crawford deserves as much physical suffering as it is humanly possible to endure before he dies.”
As we’ve written before, the upcoming fall election in Caddo has national implications. Hopefully this new article will help Shreveport voters ensure that their district attorney’s office treats citizens with the fairness and impartiality everyone should expect from their criminal justice system.