Man Seeks Freedom After New Evidence
Mar. 07, 2002
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) _ Steven Crawford was a teen-ager when he was sentenced to prison for killing his best friend, who was beaten by a sledgehammer in the head and robbed of his paper route money.
Now a middle-aged man, Crawford is making another push for freedom thanks to new evidence in his case. Newly discovered documents contradict police testimony about evidence in the 1970 killing of John Eddie Mitchell, which landed Crawford in prison.
Crawford is looking at the new documents not just as his ticket to freedom, but also as an opportunity to clear his name. Crawford, 45, recently turned down a deal that would set him free in exchange for a no-contest plea to third-degree murder.
Police found Mitchell's body in a blood-spattered garage in a narrow alley behind Crawford's Harrisburg home. The 13-year-old victim had been beaten in the skull with a sledgehammer that was found in an adjoining garage. His body was left under a car owned by Crawford's father.
Police say Mitchell was robbed of the $32 he had collected on his paper route that day.
Crawford, who was 14 at the time of the slaying, was convicted of homicide four years later and sentenced to life in prison. Although the conviction was upheld in two subsequent trials, Crawford continues to insist he did not commit the crime.
Crawford's cause may have new hope with the discovery of notes written by a now-retired police chemist that were found in a county detective's briefcase after he died. The notes contradict police testimony about blood on a hand print that Crawford left on a car in the garage.
Dauphin County prosecutors concede in court papers that the documents contradict earlier testimony but insist they would not change the outcome of the case.
Prosecutors argued Thursday in court that the defense was aware of the notes as early as 1985, and now the time period in which to file for a new trial has expired. The judge is considering the motion and is expected to rule before a hearing on the new evidence, scheduled for April 30.
Mitchell was Crawford's ``best friend,'' the inmate at the state prison in Mahanoy City told The Patriot-News of Harrisburg for Tuesday's editions.
``When the police opened up the garage doors, everybody saw it was John,'' Crawford said. ``It was the first time I had seen a dead body. It was devastating.''
Family members said Crawford was a short and skinny boy who tired easily from childhood anemia, while Mitchell was a bigger teen-ager. Linda Thompson, Crawford's sister and a Harrisburg city councilwoman, insists Crawford was not strong enough to commit the crime.
``My brother and him (Mitchell) were the best of friends and always the best of friends,'' she said.
Mitchell's sister, Vanessa Mitchell of Hummelstown, said she believes that Crawford was involved in her brother's slaying, although she acknowledges that others may have taken part.
``I always believed there were other people involved _ that he couldn't have done it all himself,'' Mitchell told The Patriot-News.