NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Religious leaders of several faiths on Monday said it was illegal for a north Louisiana district attorney — who's gained national attention for his outspoken support of the death penalty — to invoke the Bible when he called on a jury to impose the death penalty.
In a court filing on Monday, more than 100 religious leaders in Louisiana asked the Louisiana Supreme Court to throw out the death penalty imposed on a 27-year-old Shreveport man for smothering his 1-year-old son in 2012.
The religious leaders said Rodricus Crawford was wrongly sentenced to death by a Caddo Parish jury after District Attorney Dale Cox told the jurors the Bible condones the death penalty for child killers.
The legal brief — a friend of the court filing — on behalf of Crawford said Cox's Biblical references were both unconstitutional and wrong.
"It was opportunistic, a misuse and a misquoting," said the Rev. Dwight Webster of the Christian Unity Baptist Church in New Orleans. "Reading into the Bible something that was not intended to be there."
Webster and his fellow religious leaders spoke out against Cox in front of the Louisiana Supreme Court building in New Orleans Monday morning.
During the penalty phase in the trial against Crawford, Cox referred to passages in the New Testament where Jesus Christ talks of punishing people who harm children by putting a millstone around their necks and throwing them in the sea.
Cox is the interim district attorney of Caddo but he is not seeking to retain his position. A special election will be held this Saturday to find a new district attorney.
The prosecutor has gained national attention in recent months for his ardent support of the death penalty. In March, Cox told the Times newspaper in Shreveport that "I think we needs to kill more people." In the same interview, he related a rise in crime with the death penalty becoming used less often.
He then was profiled in national publications, where he defended his views.
Cox did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
Caddo Parish is in north Louisiana and it has one of the highest per capita rates of people sentenced to death in the nation.
"It's not really up to a prosecutor to interpret the Bible in an authoritative way, in any form, and certainly not in any court of law," said Rabbi Ethan Linden of the Shir Chadash Conservative Congregation in Metairie.
The brief argues that Cox's use of Biblical references is a violation of the Constitution by not allowing Crawford to a fair and impartial trial.
Crawford has appealed his conviction to the state high court.