Man gets life for killing preacher

July 29, 2008|By Nicole Fuller | Nicole Fuller,Sun reporter

A Delaware man who was high on crack cocaine when he beat to death a retired Wicomico County preacher with a chair was sentenced yesterday to life in prison.

Antonio E. Herneisen, 41, of Dagsboro pleaded guilty in May to first-degree murder for the March 30, 2007, killing of the Rev. Van Crawford, 76, of Delmar, near the Delaware border.

Prosecutors initially sought the death penalty, which prompted a change of venue to Anne Arundel County, where Judge Ronald A. Silkworth sentenced Herneisen. His attorney requested that Herneisen serve his time on the Eastern Shore.

The clergyman, who was retired from the St. Stephen's United Methodist Church of Delmar, was found dead in his home April 1, 2007, after neighbors reported to authorities that they had not seen him, said Wicomico County State's Attorney Davis R. Ruark.

"All the evidence indicates that a wooden chair was broken over the minister and that [Herneisen] took a spindle from that chair and beat him," said Ruark, who added that the clergyman suffered 32 blows during the attack.

Defense attorney Kay A. Beehler said her client has apologized "many times."

"He will be at some point eligible for parole, and I fully expect him to take advantage of any rehabilitation programs available to him," Beehler said.

Herneisen, who frequently cut grass and cleaned gutters for Crawford for cash, had borrowed hundreds of dollars from the minister over the years, the prosecutor said. Friends and family had warned Crawford against lending Herneisen more money, and prosecutors theorized that Crawford might have denied him a loan, prompting the beating. Herneisen admitted to police and in court that he was high on crack at the time of the beating, Ruark said.

Herneisen was linked to the crime through bloody clothes found in the trunk of his car, Ruark said.

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