Wed, Jul 21, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Man executed over young niece's murder

STAY DENIED Members of the victim's family and their friends cheered as officers removed the body of Eddie Crawford, who maintained his innocence until the end

AFP , Atlanta, Georgia

A man who kidnapped, raped and murdered his 2-year-old niece was executed after the US Supreme Court rejected his request for a stay. Defense attorneys had argued DNA testing of two newly discovered hairs could prove he is not the killer.

Eddie Albert Crawford, 57, was pronounced dead at 7:49pm on Monday after 20 years on death row, two trials and a seven-month delay since his execution was originally scheduled for December.

Prosecutors argued at trial he sneaked into the house and kidnapped the girl after her mother -- his sister-in-law -- refused to have sex with him. Crawford claimed he blacked out after heavy drinking and didn't remember what happened.

Crawford, lying on a gurney, mumbled a final statement before the fatal injection was administered.

"There hasn't been a time in the last 21 years I wouldn't have laid down my life for little Leslie. I don't remember anything. If this will give them peace it was well worth it," he said.

Members of the victim's family and their friends clapped and cheered as officers removed the body from the state prison here.

The Supreme Court refused to stop the execution earlier Monday, although three of the court's more liberal members supported giving Crawford a stay to conduct DNA testing of hairs found on the girl's body.

Several defense attorneys had sought DNA testing of two hairs found on the girl's body and clothing to determine if they belong to Crawford or someone else. The attorneys hoped the courts would find that prisoners have a constitutional right to have such existing evidence tested.

The state parole board denied their requests on Friday, citing overwhelming evidence against Crawford, including his own comments after he was taken into custody. It was the first use of a new Georgia law that allows convicts to request DNA testing to be exonerated.

Crawford was linked to the crime by other hair and carpet fibers found on the girl's body, as well as her blood found in his car.

Crawford was originally set to die last December before the Georgia Supreme Court put his execution on hold pending DNA testing of items taken from the crime scene. But the high court then ruled that even if the items tested positive for someone else's DNA, that wouldn't clear Crawford.

State courts have ruled additional DNA testing inadmissible on four occasions because Crawford still would have been found guilty, Spalding County District Attorney Bill McBroom said. DNA testing that McBroom independently ordered last year found that blood on Crawford's shirt was similar to that of a sibling of the girl's mother.

"Just because you find some hairs out there, you have to show it's connected to the crime," McBroom said.

Crawford's attorney at his first trial, Tamara Jacobs, said three men convicted or accused of child molestation, including some family members, may have had access to the girl that night.

"I'm sorry, but he doesn't deserve to breathe the same air I'm breathing," said Angela Ledford, the girl's cousin.

Before the execution, Aimee Maxwell, executive director of the Georgia Innocence Project, said the new hairs would be tested in coming weeks regardless of Crawford's fate.

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