U.S. high court declines to hear death row appeal

news_court_greenJACKSON (AP) – The U.S. Supreme Court will not hear an appeal from a Mississippi death row inmate who argued there was a constitutional error in his capital murder trial for the killing of a junior college student.

Charles Ray Crawford made his request to the Supreme Court in October. The court denied the request without comment Monday.

A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and a Mississippi federal judge said while Crawford was deprived of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel as it related to a 1993 psychiatric evaluation, prosecutors presented enough evidence to the trial jury to uphold his conviction and sentence.

The 5th Circuit panel called the error harmless.

Crawford, now 43, was sentenced to death in 1994 for the murder and rape 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, with a notice he planned to pursue an insanity defense. 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 another crime was being committed, Crawford 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.

It was after the arrest for Ray’s death that a judge ordered the mental examination.

Crawford later was tried and convicted on the original charges and sentenced to 66 years in prison.

During his trial for Ray’s death, psychiatrists differed on Crawford’s mental condition. Court documents show prosecutors used results of the 1993 examination, which found Crawford mentally competent, to attack Crawford’s insanity defense in the capital murder case. Ultimately Crawford was convicted and sentenced to death.

The Mississippi Supreme Court upheld his death sentence in 1998. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case that year.

Crawford was granted an appeal to the 5th Circuit to argue he was subjected to a 1993 psychiatric evaluation without benefit of counsel. The Sixth Amendment protects the rights of criminal defendants to have a lawyer and effective legal representation.

In 2009, the 5th Circuit ordered the Mississippi district court to hear the Sixth Amendment argument.

After a hearing, a federal judge in north Mississippi ruled in 2012 that Crawford’s right to counsel was violated but it was constitutionally harmless.