By Jack Elliott Jr.
JACKSON – The Mississippi Supreme Court has set out a timetable for attorneys for a death row inmate to file briefs by late May supporting his appeal of a 1994 rape conviction.
In refusing to set an execution date for Charles Ray Crawford in March, the Supreme Court said it would resolve the appeal of prior rape conviction first.
That conviction was cited as an aggravating factor by prosecutors in justifying the death sentence Crawford received in 1994 for the slaying of a junior college student.
The Supreme Court filed an order Monday setting out the briefing scheduled. Prosecutors will have 30 days after Crawford’s lawyers file his arguments to file a response.
If the Supreme Court upholds Crawford’s conviction in the earlier case, Attorney General Jim Hood could again petition the court to set an execution date.
Crawford’s attorneys have argued in court documents that if the rape conviction is reversed, the jury would have considered “an invalid aggravator in imposing the death sentence.” They argued reversal would mean Crawford would have the right to have his death sentence thrown out and a new sentencing hearing scheduled in Tippah County.
Prosecutors have said a reversal of the earlier rape conviction would be a harmless error because of the abundance of evidence supporting the death penalty in the capital murder case. They said Crawford was also convicted of aggravated assault in the early trial, another aggravating factor used to justify the death penalty.
Few details of the prior rape and aggravated assault convictions are discussed in the earlier briefs in the death penalty case.
Crawford, now 43, was sentenced to death for the murder of Northeast Mississippi Community College student Kristy Ray in rural Tippah County.
In 1993, Crawford was out on bond awaiting trial on charges of aggravated assault and rape. Four days before his trial, the 20-year-old Ray was abducted from her parents’ home in Chalybeate. After his family and attorney notified police that they feared Crawford was committing another crime, he was arrested. Crawford told authorities he did not remember the incident but later led them to the body buried in leaves in a wooded area.
Crawford later was tried and convicted on the original charges in the rape and aggravated assault case and sentenced to 66 years in prison.