The prospect that someone could die for a crime that they did not commit is one of the strongest arguments used by opponents of capital punishment, because no one -- not even proponents of the death penalty -- wants to see an innocent person executed.
Crawford's case could provide fuel for anti-death penalty proponents because as his execution date approached, the Georgia Innocence Project was pushing to test the DNA of two hairs found on the girl's body and clothing to determine if they belonged to someone other that Crawford.
The Georgia Supreme Court stayed his execution scheduled last December, pending DNA testing of several items taken from the crime scene. But later the court ruled that even if the items tested positive for someone else's DNA, it would not prove Crawford innocent. On four occasions state courts have ruled additional DNA testing inadmissible because Crawford still would have been found guilty, they said.
Proponents of capital punishment argue that if there was ever a crime that called out for the death penalty, it was the one for which Crawford was convicted. At his trial, prosecutors said that Crawford showed up drunk at his sister-in-law's house looking for sex and when she refused him, he abducted her two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, raped her, strangled her, and dumped her in nearby woods.
Crawford, a Vietnam veteran who claimed he was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, said that he was in a drunken blackout and does not remember anything about the night in question.
'This One Bothers Me'Tamara Jacobs, Crawford's attorney at his first trial, said she still has doubts his guilt. Three men convicted or accused of child molestation, including some family members, may have had access to the girl that night, Jacobs said.
"This one bothers me. It's always bothered me," Jacobs said. "I retain reasonable doubt as to whether my client had done the deed," Jacobs told reporters.
Attorneys for the Georgia Innocence Project believe DNA testing of evidence found at the scene of the crime could point to those other suspects. But three days before his execution, the Georgia parole board denied their requests for a delay and on the day of his execution, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to stop it.
Despite his execution, the Georgia Innocence Project will test the hairs found on the girl's body. "We are going to make sure everything gets tested," said Aimee Maxwell, the project's executive director.
If those hairs prove to belong to someone else other that Crawford, they still will not prove him innocent of the crime -- but it will raise further doubts about his guilt, giving death penalty opponents more fuel for their argument.