Caddo Parish assistant district attorney Dale Cox doesn't apologize for the office's capital conviction rate but says that's the reason for so many of office's current problems.
"The state board is very concerned about the Caddo Parish- number one- because the district attorney's office seeks the death penalty here," Cox said. "Number two: jurors in Caddo Parish award the death penalty."
Once the Caddo Parish District Attorney's Office files a motion to seek the death penalty against a given suspect, the Louisiana Public Defender Board steps in and assigns a defense team. In northwest Louisiana, those services have traditionally been covered by Capital Assistance Project of Louisiana, or CAPOLA. That organization, however, lost its state contract in July after a series of convictions and future of some local cases is now in uncharted territory.
"It is their job to provide counsel for capital defendants and non-capital defendants," Cox said. "How the verdict turns out shouldn't be a concern of theirs."
Cox believes the state public defender board is targeting Caddo Parish and trying to prevent them from trying death penalty cases by any means possible. Tactics, he says, include cutting budgets and decertifying the only attorneys legally allowed to take capital cases.
LPDB Capital Case Coordinator Jean Faria recently testified that the agency reviewed CAPOLA work- and subsequently cut their funding- after jurors returned back-to-back death sentences. Marcus Reed was sentenced to death for killing three young brothers October 2013 and jurors returned the same fate for Rodricus Crawford just one month later.
Louisiana jurors sentenced 13 men to death between 2009 and 2014. Caddo Parish accounts for 46% of those cases.
When you look at the more than 80 people on death row in Angola, one in five was tried in a Caddo courtroom, more than any other parish.
Death penalty opponents say the statistics show that capital punishment is not a result of the crime committed, but instead of the geography in which it occurred.
Since reinstatement of the death penalty in the modern era, the south has accounted for 82% of executions. Within that region, there are some jurisdictions that sentences a disproportionately high number of people to die. A look at the 15 counties which have executed to most people since 1976 reveals nine in Texas alone.
Capital punishment opponents often point to East Baton Rouge Parish as a success story. The DA's office used to seek the death penalty on a regular basis but doesn't anymore. DA Hillar Moore says the office's policy has not changed, but he says he encountered many of problems Caddo prosecutors face now. Moore says they fought the state board on funding and consistently saw death qualified attorneys de-certified. When faced with up to five years of pre-trial motions, Moore says many families opt instead to let the suspect plead to second degree murder and secure a life sentence.
Cox says the state board successfully prevented East Baton Rouge from taking cases to the jury, but he's determined to move forward in Caddo.
"If the ideology on the other side were haunted by the facts like I am, were haunted by the pictures of the child, their autopsy photographs, the photographs that are taken at the hospital by the family members who grieve beyond description, I think some of the rhetoric might be toned down a bit," Cox said.
Death penalty opponent says the American Judicial system assures all accused of the most serious crimes deserve a competent defense, often adding arguments about highly publicized instances of wrongful convictions and the debate over the morality of the death penalty itself. While prosecutors carry their own passion, defense attorneys say they seek to prevent further bloodshed.