May 24, 2014 11:08:27 PM
JACKSON -- The Mississippi Supreme Court has given attorneys for death row inmate Charles Ray Crawford more time to file briefs supporting his appeal of a 1994 rape conviction.
In refusing to set an execution date for Crawford in March in a separate capital murder case, the Supreme Court said it would resolve the appeal of previous rape conviction first. That conviction was cited as an aggravating factor by prosecutors in justifying the death sentence Crawford received in 1994 in the slaying of a junior college student.
Crawford's lawyers have until June 25 to file arguments. Prosecutors will have 30 days to respond after Crawford's lawyers file.
Crawford's lawyer, Glenn S. Swartzfager, told the court he took over the case in February and had had no time to prepare briefs until the old timetable, which had a deadline of Friday. The attorney general's office did not oppose the additional time.
If the Supreme Court upholds Crawford's conviction in the earlier case, Attorney General Jim Hood could again petition the court to set an execution date.
Crawford has argued in court documents that if the rape conviction is reversed, Crawford would have the right to have his death sentence thrown out and a new sentencing hearing scheduled in Tippah County.
Prosecutors have said a reversal of the earlier rape conviction would be a harmless error because of the abundance of evidence supporting the death penalty. They said Crawford was also convicted of aggravated assault in the early trial, another aggravating factor used to justify the death penalty.
Few details of the prior rape and aggravated assault convictions are discussed in the earlier briefs in the death penalty case.
Crawford, now 48, was sentenced to death for the murder 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. 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 Crawford was committing another crime, he 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.
Crawford later was tried and convicted on the original charges in the rape and aggravated assault case and sentenced to 66 years in prison.
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