Death Penalty is Not Reserved for the Worst Offenders- Determined by Race and Geography

Today, attorneys working on behalf of Marcus Reed filed this Response to the State of Louisiana’s brief at the United States Supreme Court.  Marcus Reed was convicted and sentenced to death in the same parish, by the same prosecutor as Rodricus Crawford and Lamondre Tucker.  The cases were identified in this piece by Maurice Chammah in the Marshall Project, Could One of these Cases Spell the End of the Death Penalty.  In the filing today, Reed’s lawyers argued:

Now is the time; and this is an appropriate case for this Court to consider whether the evolving standards of decency render imposition of capital punishment in a non-terrorism, non-treason case unconstitutional.

Marcus Reed, an African American man from Caddo Parish, was represented at trial by two attorneys who were responsible for more than one quarter of the death sentences in Louisiana between 2009 and 2014. Reed was at his house, late at night, when three teenagers drove up his driveway. It was uncontested at trial that one of those teenagers had burglarized Mr. Reed's house that same day. Reed's defense at trial was that the teenagers inteded to rob him again, or commit another violent felony at his home, that he had told them to stay away, begged them not to come, and shot them in the dark when they arrived. In this case, where Mr. Reed's only defense was that the killings were justified, the Louisiana Supreme Court acknowledged that "defense counsel arguably made a professional error by failing to request instructions under Louisiana's Stand Your Ground Statute."

Reed's case demonstrates that the death penalty in America is not reserved for the worst offenders, but occur as a result of the arbitrary circumstances of race and geography. 


PJI Awarded Competitive Grant from Harrah's New Orleans Casino and New Orleans City Councilmember Jason Williams

PJI's Client and Family Assistance Project has been awarded a competitive grant from New Orleans City Councilmember Jason Williams and Harrah's New Orleans Casino. The grant, established in 2006, works to provide support to local organizations and projects that contribute substantially to the well-being, development, and growth of the New Orleans community. The program is broad-based and provides grants to a diversity of meritorious organizations and projects.

PJI's Client Assistance Coordinator, Mara Abramson, responds to the needs of over 200 men and women in prison in Louisiana. She raises funds and supplies hygiene supplies, glasses, books, food, clothing, and money for medical bills. Mara also coordinates communication and visits for these clients with their families.

With the support of Harrah's and New Orleans City Councilmember Jason Williams, Mara will be able to provide increased support to incarcerated people and their families. Mara's work increases important family connections, strengthening our communities and decreasing hopelessness in prisons in Louisiana.



Calvin Duncan on Non-Unanimous Jury Verdicts

Calvin Duncan

PJI's Light of Justice Program Director, Calvin Duncan, presented at the ACLU of Louisiana's critical panel, The Shame of Our State: Non-Unanimous Jury Verdicts in Louisiana, to discuss the impact of non-unanimous jury verdicts in Louisiana.

Louisiana is only one of two states to allow felony convictions by only a portion of a jury. This unjust practice stemmed from post-Reconstruction racism and is a leading cause for wrongful convictions. Calvin Duncan has devoted his work to shining a light on this injustice and creating a more equitable system for those who are trapped within this system.

Elayn Hunt Correctional Center's Lifers' Association Banquet

Certificate of Appreciation


PJI's Client and Family Assistance Coordinator, Mara Abramson, was honored at the Elayn Hunt Correctional Center's Lifers' Association Annual Banquet. Elayn Hunt's Lifers' Association serves to organize, inspire, support, and empower incarcerated individuals in their efforts to succeed.

Mara spoke at the banquet, talking to incarcerated men about the services PJI's Client and Family Assistance program provides, including family visits, correspondence, basic medical and hygiene care, books, and general advocacy.

Mara also discussed current trends in criminal justice reform and the state of over-incarceration in Louisiana, quoting Governor John Bel Edwards when he said "You will never convince me that the people of Louisiana are innately more sinister or criminal than elsewhere. So what are we doing?"

Mara concluded her presentation by telling the Association members "All of this is to say, I know that sometimes it can feel hopeless. I know that it can just feel like you're going through the motions, trying to make it another day, feeling like there's no one out there who is looking out for you. But I want you to know that there is a huge community out here advocating that you, and people like you, get a real chance to succeed."


Unjust Conviction Sparks Public Outcry to Release Rodricus Crawford

Rodricus Crawford's Family, Friends, Attorney, and Supporters at the September 7th Oral Argument.


The September 7th Louisiana Supreme Court oral argument heard Rodricus Crawford's appeal attesting to his factual innocence. Attorneys Cecelia Kappel and Ben Cohen cited many examples of insufficient evidence presented by the Caddo Parish District Attorney's Office, as well as evidence of Mr. Crawford's innocence. Mr. Crawford's attorneys also criticized the notorious prosecutor, Dale Cox, for suggesting to the jury that Jesus Christ would impose the death penalty.  

The story of Rodricus Crawford's unjust conviction has been captured nationally. Religious leaders have signed on to Rodricus Crawford's case with a brief which opposes the imposition of the death penalty in the case and to protest the DA's use of Jesus Christ to persuade jurors to convict the young man based on scant evidence. 

The full hearing can be viewed and downloaded here.

Journalists, concerned community members, and Shreveport natives are not the only people asking how this tragic incident became a murder trial. The justices themselves wondered aloud at the hearing - Justice Jeannette Theriot Knoll asking several times "How did this become a first-degree murder case?" More questions centered around the minuscule amount of evidence, and the complete lack of motive Rodricus Crawford had to commit the alleged crime. 

Justice Knoll notably said "With a child that has an autopsy had discovered had sepsis and ask that this man be put to death on weak circumstances. You don't even have a motive." Miles Jay Oliver specifically noted in his article in the Shreveport Times that the shaky pathology of the entire case was highly disputed by experts. 

In addition to questioning Mr. Crawford's guilt in this case, the Louisiana Supreme Court Justices also brought up multiple errors in procedure by the state regarding evidence, and improper handling of jury selection- violating Batson using racial profiling during jury selection. 

Yolanda Young, writing for The Shreveport Times, made a plea to Caddo Parish District Attorney James Stewart, to drop the charges in light of the lack of evidence and asked the citizens of Shreveport to become active in voicing opposition to Mr. Crawford's imprisonment by saying: 

"What I'm asking is for us to join together on this one thing, to free this one man. Watch the hearing, and if you believe there is one shred of evidence that points to Crawford's guilt, so be it. But if you watch it, and see the truth in it, that this man is innocent, do something."