Ex-wives implicate man in ’02 murder

November 9, 2018

HUNTINGTON — A new court document filed in a complex case surrounding the murder conviction of four men in the 2002 murder of Deanna Crawford says additional women have come forward accusing another man of perpetrating the act.

Nathaniel Barnett, his brother Philip, Justin Black and Brian Emerson Dement were convicted of the murder more than 10 years ago based on the recanted statement of Dement. However, DNA testing performed recently with more advanced technology implicated another man as being at the scene.

The new suspect’s DNA was found in semen near the victim and on a cigarette butt found at the scene. When asked, the man had no explanation for how his DNA would be at the scene.

Original documents indicated one of that man’s ex-wives had said he admitted to killing a woman around the time of Crawford’s death, but a document recently filed revealed that two additional ex-wives have since come forward, elaborating on the accusations, with one even indicating another man witnessed the killing.

The new information was released in October in a filing in which defense attorneys were asking for the judge to compel Cabell County Prosecuting Attorney Sean “Corky” Hammers to exchange evidence, or have the state drop its charges against the men, so they can better prepare for an upcoming hearing regarding their request for exoneration.

Each of the three ex-wives painted the suspect as being a lying, violent man with drug-dependence issues.

The woman he was married to when the murder occurred told investigators he came home with blood on his hands and clothes and with money he could not explain. She also said he later would boast about killing someone and she had

overheard one of his friends threatening to tell police “what he had done to that girl.”

Another ex-wife told both defense investigators and state police that he confessed to murdering Crawford. The woman told police he had “threatened to kill her like he had killed a (sex worker)” and that he “had killed before and he would kill again.” However, the woman told police he did not know the girl’s name that he killed.

At one point, to back up his claims of having killed, the suspect allegedly told her that a cousin had picked Crawford up prior to her death. The ex-wife was told that the suspect had killed Crawford by hitting her over the head with a rock because he believed she was going to stab his cousin. The cousin then grabbed her throat and dragged her, the document said.

The suspect and his cousin are co-defendants in a separate Lawrence County, Ohio, case where they abducted a female victim and threatened to kill her, the attorneys alleged.

His third wife vouched for the second ex-wife as a “good person” when questioned by police and said the suspect has also told about a time “a girl had made him mad and he said he dealt with it.”

The man was most recently imprisoned for raping a 13-year-old girl, who was later impregnated.

When confronted by investigators about the DNA evidence, the newly accused had no explanation of how his DNA could have been found on Crawford or at the scene, although he did admit to smoking the same brand of cigarettes on which his DNA had been found at the scene.

He also had no explanation of why the women would have made the allegations against him, according to the filing.

″(He) told police he had never physically harmed anyone and no one in his past would say he was a violent person. He said he had a civil relationship with each of his ex-wives and he had no history of violence or anger issues,” the document said.

Karen Thompson, a senior staff attorney at the Innocence Project, and local attorney Richard Weston represent Philip Barnett, while Valena Beety of the West Virginia Innocence Project represents Nathaniel Barnett. Black is represented by Joshua Tepfer, of the Exoneration Project at the University of Chicago Law School and Charleston attorney Lonnie Simmons. Dement is represented by Steven Drizin of the Center on Wrongful Convictions and local attorney Abe Saad.

All sides will return to Cabell Circuit Judge Alfred E. Ferguson’s courtroom within the next few months as the exoneration fight moves forward.

Follow reporter Courtney Hessler at Facebook.com/CHesslerHD and via Twitter @HesslerHD.

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