By Jack Elliott Jr.
JACKSON – Attorneys for death row inmate Charles Ray Crawford are arguing the man’s 1994 rape conviction should be tossed out because he received poor legal representation at his trial. The result of the appeal could mean the difference between life and death for Crawford.
According to his lawyers, Crawford could get off death row — where he now resides on an unrelated murder conviction — if his appeal in the rape case is successful.
Crawford was arrested in 1992 for rape and aggravated assault. While free on bond, he was arrested for murder in the death of a young woman. He was convicted of rape in 1993 and sentenced to 66 years in prison. He was then found guilty of murder in 1994 and sentenced to death. Prosecutors had argued for the death penalty, saying it was justified because Crawford’s past as a rapist constituted an aggravated factor and called for the harshest of punishments.
Crawford is now appealing the rape conviction. His lawyers say he received inadequate counsel during the trial.
The state Supreme Court says it will not set an execution date for the murder until the rape appeal is resolved. Crawford’s lawyers filed a brief in the appeal July 25. Attorney General Jim Hood has 30 days from that date to respond.
If the Supreme Court upholds Crawford’s conviction in the earlier case, Hood could again petition the court to set an execution date. Crawford’s lawyers argue that the death sentence would be negated if the conviction is reversed.
Few details of the rape conviction are discussed in earlier briefs in the death penalty case. Crawford, now 48, was sentenced to death in the killing of Northeast Mississippi Community College student Kristy Ray in rural Tippah County.
Glenn Swartzfager, Crawford’s lawyer, argued in the July 25 filing that there were numerous errors in Crawford’s rape trial including poor performance by the defense, prosecutorial misconduct and questionable rulings and jury instructions from the trial judge.
“A more error-ridden case may never have come before this court,” Swartzfager wrote in the brief to the Supreme Court.
“Mr. Crawford is not asserting the right to a perfect trial, though the trial he received was far from perfect, but he is asserting his right to a trial which had some chance of providing the reliability demanded by the United States and Mississippi constitutions,” Swartzfager wrote.