Baton Rouge Louisiana

LOUISIANA – Man freed from death row blames conviction on racial bias

November 21,  2017

A biased autopsy and a prosecutor’s racism and religious fervor corrupted the murder case against a black man freed from Louisiana’s death row, a federal lawsuit says.

Rodricus Crawford, 29, sued the Caddo Parish coroner and district attorney’s offices last Thursday, one year after the Louisiana Supreme Court overturned his first-degree murder conviction in the death of his 1-year-old son.

Crawford’s lawsuit claims authorities recklessly disregarded medical evidence that his son, Roderius Lott, had pneumonia and died of natural causes. Investigators accused Crawford of smothering the child at their Shreveport home in February 2012.

The suit also says Crawford was deprived of a fair trial by a prosecutor with a “racist world view” who followed a “biblical command” to secure the death penalty against black defendants.

That prosecutor, former acting District Attorney Dale Cox, is an outspoken advocate of the death penalty who told a reporter he believes the state needs to “kill more people.” Cox personally prosecuted one-third of the Louisiana cases that resulted in death sentences between 2010 and 2015, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Caddo Parish has a “well-known history of racism and the arbitrary application of the death penalty,” the lawsuit says.

The night before his son’s death, Crawford and the child were sleeping in a fold-out couch. Relatives called 911 after Crawford woke up the next morning and noticed his son wasn’t moving or breathing.

The parish coroner had a “preconceived suspicion” that the child had been smothered to death based on the family’s race and neighborhood where they lived, the suit says. The forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy didn’t take routine tissue samples that would have shown the timing of the child’s injuries, the suit says. The pathologist also falsely claimed that bacteria found in the child’s blood may have come from a contaminated sample, it adds.

Their “preconceived expectations and theories were based on race and racism, and they operated with deliberate indifference to these accepted professional standards of practice,” the lawsuit says.

The suit describes Crawford as a “proud and loving father” and accuses Cox of falsely portraying him as an absentee dad during his trial.

“This argument was based on racial stereotypes and animus, and not upon the facts of this case,” it says.

Cox said Monday that he hadn’t seen the lawsuit and couldn’t comment on its allegations. John Prime, a spokesman for both the coroner and district attorney’s offices, said he can’t comment on pending litigation.

James Stewart, who also is named as a defendant in the suit, became the first black district attorney in Caddo Parish after Cox decided not to run for election.

Crawford was sentenced to death in November 2013 and remained on death row until the state Supreme Court reversed his conviction last year. The district attorney’s office declined to retry him.

TEXAS – Execution – Donnie Lee Roberts – 31/10/2012 – EXECUTED 6.39 p.m

“I’m really sorry. I never meant to cause you all so much pain,” Roberts said to Bowen’s father, who was seated in a chair close to a glass window in the death chamber viewing area. “I hope you can go on with your life.

“I loved your daughter. I hope to God he lets me see her in heaven so I can apologize to her and see her and tell her.”

Roberts also asked two of his friends who watched through another window to tell his own daughter he loved her.

He repeated that he was sorry and took several deep breaths as the lethal dose of pentobarbital began taking effect. He snored briefly before slipping into unconsciousness, and was pronounced dead 23 minutes later.

Last Meal: Same shit salad being fed to every other thug on the row that day

October 30, 2012

This handout photo provided by the Texas Department of Public Safety shows Donnie Roberts. Roberts, a Louisiana parole violator, is set to die Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, for killing his girlfriend Vicki Bowen at her home in Lake Livingston, Texas, in October 2003. Photo:  Texas Department Of Public Safety / AP

HUNTSVILLE, Texas  — Donnie Lee Roberts, convicted in his girlfriend’s 2003 slaying, was taken from his death row cell Wednesday and moved to the Texas prison where executions are carried out, one of the final steps before his scheduled lethal injection.

After the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review Roberts’ case earlier this week, no additional appeals were filed to try to block his execution, which will be the 12th this year in the nation’s most active capital punishment state.

Roberts, now 41, is being put to death for fatally shooting Vicki Bowen and taking items from her East Texas home to sell or trade to support his drug habit. At the time of his arrest for the October 2003 killing, Roberts had violated his probation for a robbery conviction in Louisiana by fleeing to Texas after dropping out of a drug treatment program.

Authorities said he apparently met Bowen, 44, a dental assistant, at a bar and moved in with her at her home on Lake Livingston, about 75 miles northeast of Houston. Their relationship soured because Roberts wasn’t working and was abusing drugs and alcohol, investigators said, and he shot Bowen after she refused his demand for money.

Roberts was arrested at a suspected crack house in Livingston when a truck missing from Bowen’s home was spotted there the same day Bowen’s body was discovered.

“He was cooperative and confessed several times,” District Attorney Lee Hon said. “He was saying he wanted the death penalty.”

Roberts told authorities he made several trips from the house where Bowen was shot, collecting property that he took into town to sell and trade for crack.

He also surprised detectives by confessing to the shotgun death of a man a decade earlier in Natchitoches Parish, La. Louisiana authorities initially believed the victim, Al Crow, had died of asphyxiation in a fire at the camper trailer where he was living but reopened the case following Roberts’ disclosure, found shotgun pellets and determined it was a homicide.

Roberts was charged with murder but not tried for Crow’s death.

Stephen Taylor, one of Roberts’ lawyers at his Texas capital murder trial, said the confessions complicated his trial defense.

“It’s almost like somebody saying he was a serial killer, that he’s killed before and he killed again,” Taylor said. “It’s one thing to say you have the right to remain silent. Use it!

“It’s always sad for someone to lose his life, especially for something so stupid.”

Bowen didn’t show up for work on Oct. 16, 2003, and a co-worker who went to check on her found her body wrapped in a blanket and lying in a pool of blood. A medical examiner determined Bowen was killed with two gunshots to her head.

Roberts took the witness stand and tried to blame Bowen for the gunfire, saying he was acting in self-defense by grabbing a .22-caliber rifle after seeing her reach down inside a couch to locate a pistol that was kept there.

“The jury obviously disagreed,” Hon said.

Evidence at trial showed Roberts had a record for battery while being held in jail in Fulton County, Ga., that he’d threatened his wife to give him money for drugs, and that he demanded a single-person cell in Polk County when he was jailed for Bowen’s murder or there would be another killing.

His robbery conviction in Louisiana was for a Mother’s Day 2001 convenience store holdup in Baton Rouge, La., where the knife-wielding Roberts threatened to slice the throat of the female clerk.

“He was a bad dude, pretty violent,” Hon said.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice Polunsky Unit, where the state’s male death row is housed, has been Roberts’ home since his capital murder conviction in 2004. The unit is just outside Livingston and not far from where Bowen was killed.

On Wednesday, Roberts was moved about 45 miles west to the Huntsville Unit prison, where he is to be executed.

Three more Texas prisoners are set to die in November, including one next week.

LOUISIANA – Todd Wessinger wins 3rd hearing on death sentence

May 18, 2012 Source :

Todd Wessinger must receive a third federal court hearing on his push to overturn his death sentence after being convicted of murdering two workers at a Baton Rouge restaurant in 1995.

U.S. District Judge James J. Brady scheduled the hearing for Dec. 13, according to court documents filed Wednesday.

In February, Brady denied Wessinger, 44, a new trial. The judge ruled that “overwhelming” state court evidence supported Wessinger’s conviction on charges that he murdered 27-year-old Stephanie Guzzardo and 46-year-old David Breakwell at the since-closed Calendar’s restaurant on Perkins Road.

In April, however, Brady took additional defense motions under consideration and indefinitely blocked Wessinger’s scheduled May 9 execution.

On Wednesday, Brady rejected four of Wessinger’s latest five claims of state court errors.

But the judge ruled that Wessinger’s claim of “ineffective assistance of counsel at the penalty phase of the trial” is “deserving of further proceedings.”

By limiting his latest ruling to the penalty phase of Wessinger’s trial, Brady signaled his future decision would either support or overturn the jury’s imposition of the death penalty. The murder conviction stands.

Brady noted that an on-point ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — which governs federal court decisions in Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi — shows new claims of mental illness, low intelligence and childhood abuse can be raised at sentencing and on appeal.

The judge noted the 5th Circuit’s decision only applies to defense evidence on federal appeal that is “significantly different and stronger” than defense evidence presented to state courts.

But Brady added Wessinger cannot win a new sentencing hearing unless he can show his defense attorney’s failure to present new evidence of his claimed mental problems at sentencing was so significant that “he might not have received the death penalty.”

In April, defense attorneys argued Wessinger suffered childhood seizures and physical and emotional abuse, developed substance addictions and was traumatized by the deaths of his children prior to the murders of Guzzardo and Breakwell.

Those arguments were presented by appellate attorneys Danalynn Recer, of The Gulf Region Advocacy Center in Houston; Soren Gisleson, of New Orleans; and Federal Public Defender Rebecca Hudsmith, of Lafayette.

Assistant District Attorneys Dale R. Lee and J. Christine Chapman argued against Wessinger’s stay of execution.

Chapman and Lee told Brady the families of Guzzardo and Breakwell “have endured years of uncertainty and appeals. They undoubtedly endure harm each day that the lawful sentence of the court is not carried out, and they are clearly entitled to finality and closure.”

LOUISIANA – Todd Wessinger – Execution May 9 – Stayed

april 25 source :


A federal judge in Baton Rouge has granted a temporary stay of execution for a man convicted in the 1995 slaying of two workers at a now-closed restaurant.
The Advocate reports Todd Wessinger was scheduled to be executed May 9 but U.S. District Judge James Brady granted the stay while he reviews arguments presented Wednesday by his attorneys, who asked for a permanent stay of the death penalty order.
Brady did not say when he would rule on the request.
Wessinger, a former dishwasher at a now-closed Calendar’s restaurant, was found guilty and sentenced to die by lethal injection for fatally shooting 27-year-old Stephanie Guzzardo and 46-year-old David Breakwell on Nov. 19, 1995

LOUISIANA – Todd Wessinger – execution may 9, 2012 STAYED

Update 25 april source :


A federal judge in Baton Rouge has granted a temporary stay of execution for a man convicted in the 1995 slaying of two workers at a now-closed restaurant.
The Advocate reports Todd Wessinger was scheduled to be executed May 9 but U.S. District Judge James Brady granted the stay while he reviews arguments presented Wednesday by his attorneys, who asked for a permanent stay of the death penalty order.
Brady did not say when he would rule on the request.
Wessinger, a former dishwasher at a now-closed Calendar’s restaurant, was found guilty and sentenced to die by lethal injection for fatally shooting 27-year-old Stephanie Guzzardo and 46-year-old David Breakwell on Nov. 19, 1995.


acts from The Supreme court Louisiana

This case arises from the murder of two employees of Calendar’s Restaurant in Baton Rouge on Sunday, November 19, 1995, at approximately 9:30 a.m. The evidence shows that defendant, a former employee at Calendar’s, rode his bicycle tothe restaurant that morning armed with a .380 semi-automatic pistol. Mike Armentor, a bartender at the restaurant, saw defendant just outside of the restaurant, and they exchanged greetings. Immediately after entering the restaurant through a rear door, defendant shot Armentor twice inthe back. Although Armentor sustained severe abdominal injuries, he survived. Defendant then tried to shoot Alvin Ricks, a dishwasher, in the head, but the gun would not fire. As Ricks ran out of the restaurant, defendant attempted to shoot him in the leg, but the gun misfired. As he was running across the street to call 911, Ricks told Willie Grigsby, another employee of the restaurant who escaped the restaurant without being seen by defendant, that he had seen the perpetrator, and the perpetrator was Todd. Ricks also told the 911 operator that the perpetrator was Todd.

Stephanie Guzzardo, the manager on duty that morning, heard the commotion and called 911. Before she could speak to the operator, defendant entered the office, armed with the gun.  After a short exchange with Guzzardo, in which she begged for her life, defendant, after telling her to “shut up,” shot her through the heart. Guzzardo died approximately thirty seconds after being shot. Defendant then removed approximately $7000 from the office. Defendant next found David Breakwell, a cook at the restaurant who had been hiding in a cooler, and shot him as he begged for his life. Defendant then left the restaurant on his bicycle. EMS personnel arrived at the scene shortly there after, and Breakwell died en route to the hospital.

Defendant was eventually arrested and charged with two counts of first degree murder. Testimony adduced at trial established that defendant had asked one of his friends to commit the robbery with him, and that he planned to leave no witnesses to the crime. Several people also testified that they had seen the defendant with large sums of money after the crime. The murderweapon was subsequently discovered, along with a pair of gloves worn during the crime, at an abandoned house across the street from defendant’s residence. One of defendant’s friends testified that defendant had asked him to remove the murder weapon from the abandoned house.
Defendant was convicted of two counts of first degree murder for the deaths of Breakwell and Guzzardo and sentenced to death. The jury found three aggravating circumstances:

(1) that defendant was engaged in the perpetration or attempted perpetration of aggravated burglary orarmed robbery;

(2) that defendant knowingly created a risk of death or great bodily harm to more
than one person; and

(3) the offense was committed in an especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel manner.

read full opinion

Update april 12, 2012  source :

Attorneys for convicted killer Todd Wessinger, who is scheduled to be executed May 9 for the 1995 slaying of two workers at a now-closed Baton Rouge restaurant, has asked a federal judge to reconsider his recent denial of a new trial or sentencing.

The Advocate reports ( ) Todd Wessinger’s attorneys also asked that his execution be stayed.

Wessinger’s attorneys want U.S. District Judge James Brady to hold an evidentiary hearing on Wessinger’s federal constitutional claims. The attorneys argued that Brady issued his ruling Feb. 22 without ever holding such a hearing.

Wessinger, a former dishwasher at the restaurant, was found guilty and sentenced to die by lethal injection for fatally shooting 27-year-old Stephanie Guzzardo and 46-year-old David Breakwel on Nov. 19, 1995.

“This Court’s actions throughout these proceedings led Mr. Wessinger to believe that evidentiary hearings would take place,” Wessinger’s current attorneys — Danalynn Recer, of The Gulf Region Advocacy Center in Houston; Soren Gisleson, of New Orleans; and federal public defender Rebecca Hudsmith, of Lafayette — contend in court filings.

Those attorneys electronically filed a motion Tuesday in federal court in Baton Rouge to alter or amend Brady’s judgment. A supporting memorandum was electronically filed Wednesday.

In February, Brady rejected a dozen claims raised by the Wessinger, 44, including allegation that his trial attorneys provided ineffective assistance during jury selection and the guilt and penalty phases of his 1997 trial in Baton Rouge.

East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III said Wednesday he believes the judge’s decision “was sound and based on the facts presented by the record.”

“It seems that the defense is arguing that everyone involved in this case did something wrong, including the defense lawyers, experts and the court — that is everyone but the defendant, who committed a particularly brutal murder,” Moore stated.

“I hope that the execution date will remain intact although I anticipate more filings on behalf of the defendant to upset the carrying out of the jury’s verdict,” he added.

Brady, who described the state’s evidence against Wessinger in the guilt phase as “overwhelming,” said in his ruling that Wessinger faults his attorneys’ penalty phase preparation for not probing further into his childhood and upbringing.

Wessinger contends such an investigation would have led to evidence of a physically and mentally abusive childhood, possible mental defects and an alienation from society that led him to believe he did not belong.

Brady ruled that Wessinger is not attacking the quality or thoroughness of the investigation but “does not like the way his story was spun for the jury.”

“This is a clear factual error inconsistent with the record which must be revisited,” Wessinger’s attorneys argue in their memorandum.

“At penalty phase, trial counsel generally painted a rosy picture of Mr. Wessinger as ‘a caring and present father, a brother who cared for his handicapped sister growing up, and a hard worker from a stable family.’ Because trial counsel had not hired a mitigation specialist nor conducted any independent life history investigation, the presentation was an incomplete and inaccurate view of Mr. Wessinger,” his current attorneys maintain.

“It is not the case, as this court suggests, that trial counsel conducted the investigation and made strategic choices about what to present,” Wessinger’s attorneys add.