Sister Revives Efforts to Save Her Brother From Louisiana’s Death Row

Out of tragedy and loss, a friendship helps one woman cope with a legal battle.
Roderius Lott; Rodricus Crawford, Roderius' father. (Photos: Courtesy Vicki Crawford-Sharp)
May 22, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Rebecca McCray is a staff writer covering social justice. She is based in New York.

It has been four years since Vicki Crawford-Sharp lost her brother. Accused in 2012 of killing his one-year-old son, 27-year-old Rodricus Crawford sits on Louisiana’s death row and insists on his innocence.

“My brother really loved his kid,” Crawford-Sharp told TakePart. “He never did anything to hurt anybody.”

Crawford says he woke to find his son, Roderius Lott, unconscious next to him in the bed they shared. He called 911 while his mother and sister tried to resuscitate the baby, but they were unsuccessful. When the police arrived with the ambulance at his family’s house in Shreveport, Louisiana, they took Crawford in and questioned him about bruises on the baby’s head and lip, which he said came from a fall.

Crawford was accused of smothering his son to death and sentenced to death in 2013. Dale Cox, the district attorney who sought the death penalty in Crawford’s case, wrote a memo to the state’s probation department expressing regret that the state only used lethal injection for the death penalty, because “Crawford deserves as much physical suffering as it is humanly possible to endure before he dies.” Crawford is the second-youngest man on death row in the state.

Crawford-Sharp renewed her efforts to prove her brother’s innocence this week with a petition asking the district attorney who replaced Cox last November, James Stewart, to drop the charges. Stewart has echoed Cox’s arguments in response to a request from Crawford’s lawyers to overturn the sentence, and he appears unwilling to budge.

Crawford’s lawyers allege that the forensic evidence used to prove Roderius was smothered is inconclusive. Last year, in a brief requesting a new trial, three doctors testified that the autopsy results were inconclusive.

Amid the chaos of trying to keep in touch with her brother and spread the word about his case, Crawford-Sharp was surprised to connect with a complete stranger. Marlene Belliveau, who lives in Canada and is the vice-chair of the Canadian Sudden Infant Death Syndrome foundation, read about Roderius’ death and reached out about a year ago.

“When my granddaughter passed away, my son and daughter-in-law were accused of murder,” Belliveau told TakePart. “Between Rodricus and my children, the stories are very similar. It’s a horrific nightmare.”

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Like Crawford, Belliveau’s son was interrogated by police and told he couldn’t go to the hospital to see his daughter when she died. Though Belliveau’s son and her daughter-in-law weren’t charged with a crime, the experience was traumatic. Belliveau, her son, and her daughter-in-law sued the Royal Canadian Mountain Police for their treatment.

“She has helped me, my mom, and my brother so much,” said Crawford-Sharp, who said she and Belliveau now talk on the phone every day.

“I want to bring [Crawford] home to his family so they can finally grieve and be together, and I want it known that he is innocent,” said Belliveau.