Girl, 16, acquitted in killing of toddler son Prosecutor shocked that Dundalk defendant goes free

October 24, 1992|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Staff Writer

In a verdict that shocked police and prosecutors, a Baltimore County jury yesterday acquitted sobbing 16-year-old LaTonya Crawford of charges that she killed her 20-month-old son two days before last Christmas.

"It blows me away," said Louis Carrico, the assistant state's attorney who tried the case against the Dundalk girl.

"It goes against all the evidence," he said.

Defense attorney John Calhoun saw the verdict differently.

"I think the jury did a good job and fairly heard the evidence," Mr. Calhoun said.

With Miss Crawford's criminal case decided, attention immediately turned to finding a place for the girl, who has spent most of her life in foster care and bore the illegitimate child of her 23-year-old stepbrother when she was only 13.

The Dundalk High School sophomore has been jailed since her Jan. 2 arrest and did not want to go back to an aunt with whom she was living at the time of Todd Crawford's death on Dec. 23, 1991.

"She's still a ward of the state," Mr. Calhoun said.

Early yesterday evening, Mr. Calhoun said his client would spend the night at a group home for foster children in the Baltimore area. He also said she would like to attend a local community college and become a physical therapist.

Miss Crawford was tried as an adult.

The jury of three men and nine women deliberated for five hours yesterday before acquitting her of second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter and three counts of child abuse. Judge John O. Hennegan dismissed a first-degree murder charge before jury deliberations began. All the jurors but one, the foreman, refused to explain their decision.

"I believe that the people who are reading the newspaper have to know that we reached the best decision we could, based on what we had to go by," said Arthur Manns. "I weighed the PTC evidence and made my decision."

Mr. Mann did not elaborate and refused to say if the jury felt sympathy toward Miss Crawford, whose father is dead and whose mother is a patient at a North Carolina mental hospital.

But Mr. Carrico, the prosecutor, said one juror told him the panel had a "hard time believing a 16-year-old could do that."

"They couldn't get over that she was 16 years old and she had such arough life," said Mr. Carrico. The verdict is "one of those things that just shocks the conscience."

Miss Crawford sobbed uncontrollably after the verdict was announced and did not comment.

During the week-long trial, the prosecution tried to prove Miss Crawford violently shoved Todd into a cloth-bottomed stroller several times on Dec. 19, and then neglected to take him to the hospital for treatment of his injuries.

Police testified she told them that she blamed herself and told them Todd was never the same after she shoved him into the stroller.

She allegedly told police Todd could not sit up or eat over the weekend, and that he couldn't move Monday morning.

"It's all my fault," police reported Miss Crawford saying. "I killed my baby."

An autopsy showed that Todd suffered four broken ribs, a lacerated liver, punctured spleen, numerous bruises and scratches -- as well as trauma to his anus.

In his closing arguments, Mr. Calhoun criticized the state for showing the jury close-up, color enlargements depicting Todd injuries. "I just hope that you won't be vigilantes and convict my client on the basis of these horrible photographs," he said.

But Mr. Calhoun also used those photographs, including a close-up of the anal injuries, which he displayed after showing a studio portrait of his client lovingly holding her son.

"My client loved Todd and Todd loved her. They loved each other," Mr. Calhoun said, before holding up the autopsy photograph. "My client could not have done this to her child! A mother could not have done this to her child!"

Dr. John Adams, a forensic pathologist and defense witness, said he believed the anal injuries were caused by a blunt object being forcefully inserted into the rectum.

But Mr. Carrico argued that a state witness, who actually performed the autopsy, said no semen was found nor was there any rectal damage or sign of penetration.

Miss Crawford testified that on the morning Todd died, she left the house for about 40 minutes with her aunt and left Todd with her aunt's boyfriend.

The boyfriend was initially a suspect, but police ruled him out after Miss Crawford described how she slammed Todd into his stroller. According to a homicide detective, Miss Crawford told them she knew Todd was hurt. "He wasn't the same afterward," said Detective Gregory Redmer, quoting Miss Crawford. "I didn't take him to the doctor. It's all my fault. I was stupid."

But Mr. Calhoun discounted those reports. "I don't think anybody could sit down with the police for six to eight hours at age 16 and not be charged with something," he said.

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