On January 4, 2009 the maintenance man, Michael Hedgepeth, at a Durham North Carolina apartment complex called 911 to report hearing shots fired. Just after hearing what he thought was a shot he had seen a woman come from the back of a building and get into a burgundy SUV. He drove towards that building and stopped the woman who was driving away to talk to her. Hedgepeth would later describe her as a bit hysterical saying she too had heard the shot and she was scared of guns. He asked her where she lived and she pointed out another building. Hedgepeth asked her to stay there while he called 911. Hedgepeth would later testify that he saw the woman still in the parking lot when he was talking to the police but not after he got off the phone. The police would come to the complex and while it does not sound as if they looked to awful hard around the area, they did not find anything and left.
About an hour and a half after Hedgepeth had called the police a resident of the complex was leaving when he saw some things scattered on the stairs of his building. As he went further down the stairs he would find the body of twenty-five year old Denita Smith at the bottom of the stairs. He would call 911 himself and then he too would notify Hedgepeth. Denita had been shot in the back of the head.
There was apparently a buzz over the fact that the police were at the complex and Denita's friend tried to reach her but failed. She would then call Jermeir Stroud, a Greensboro police officer and Denita's finance. He would tell her that he had also heard of the commotion at the complex and after several attempts to reach her he too had failed and was headed to the area.
Before I get too much further I want to point out that I did a Google search on the distance between Durham and Greensboro because this will become very important later. According to Google the trip would take approximately fifty-four minutes to complete. Of course if you use Google Maps very often you know that a trip is generally shorter than it predicts and depends on things like traffic, accidents, and even stop lights involved.
The officers at the scene would talk to Hedgepeth. He would describe the woman he had seen before he had called them earlier. Hedgepeth would say that it was a young African-American woman, about five foot ten with a ponytail and driving a burgundy Ford Explorer. Investigators had no idea if this woman was connected in any way but they wanted to know. On the day after the murder Stroud would claim that he heard that investigators were looking for this woman and he felt he needed to speak out. He would first tell his own supervisors and then tell the Durham officers in charge of the case that he suspected he knew who the woman in the burgundy SUV was.... Shannon Crawley.
Shannon Crawley was a 911 operator for the Greensboro police department. It is unclear when she and Stroud had begun dating but by his own admittance he had dated both Shannon and Denita at the same time at some point. According to Stroud he had ended the relationship several months prior to the murder after Shannon had obtained an abortion. For her part it does not seem that Shannon was clear as to if and/or when she claimed she and Stroud had split up. However, Stroud knew that Shannon drove a red Ford Explorer and this is what he reported to the police. Investigators would look into Shannon and two days after the murders she was officially being called a person of interest. Three days after that she would be arrested.
The first time Shannon was interviewed was on January 5th, right after Stroud had voiced his suspicions. She would tell the investigators that she did not know Denita. She would claim to have seen her in a church some two weeks prior and had seen pictures of her in Stroud's home but that was the extent of her knowledge, at least she would claim. She would also tell investigators that on the day of the murder she had taken her child to a doctor appointment and had been late to work. She would claim that she had never owned or had a gun.
By the end of May, apparently after likely discovering what the prosecutors had on her, changed her story quite a bit. She would claim that on the day of the murder Stroud had forced her to drive him to Durham and that when they arrived at the apartment complex he had left her in the car while he headed to Denita's 2nd story apartment. She would claim to hear the two arguing and then a gunshot. She alleged that soon after Stroud came back to the car, hid the gun and hid himself in her backseat and ordered her to take off.
While she was awaiting her trial Shannon would be released on bond. On June 20, 2008 she would report to the Charlotte police department that Stroud had raped her in the early morning hours. She would claim that he had cut her clothes off with a knife and then held the knife to her throat. She would claim that he had nicked her in several places over her body, including her vaginal area. A rape kit was taken but tested negative for semen despite her claims that he had ejaculated during the rape. The following day Shannon would suggest to the sexual assault detective on her case that they should check Stroud's trashcan and look for the knife he had used. On June 23rd Stroud would go to sit his trash out and notice at the bottom of the empty can was a knife and he decided to call the police. Two neighbors would later tell authorities what they had seen. One, who also happened to be a police officer, said that on June 19th he had heard a “thump” and saw a car drive away from the area of Stroud's trashcan. Another would state that she saw someone put something in Stroud's trashcan and leave. The detective on the case interviewed Stroud, who of course denied committing the rape. Looking at phone records and as well as other alibi issues, the detective determined that in order for Stroud to have committed the crime he would have had to drive 120 miles per hour, never even stopping for a light to get back to Greensboro. There was testimony that despite her insistence that her injuries required stitches, the doctor had disagreed. It was also pointed out through the medical examination that there had been no injuries to the vaginal canal. Investigators would conclude that the alleged sexual assault had never occurred.
Shannon would go on trial in February of 2010. At her trial Shannon and her defense would maintain the second story that she told the police, only with some elaboration to it. She would again claim that Stroud was the one who had killed Denita and that she had been forced to drive him there. The jury would be told that Stroud had been abusive and manipulative throughout their relationship and that she had only participated because she feared he would harm her children. To be fair there was an allegation that the Greensboro police department was unaware that she was claiming that Stroud was involved until the trial. I found this to be quite unbelievable. Not only had she made this claim in May of 2007 but evidence was presented that investigators did look into Stroud's phone records and other things to disprove Shannon's claims. It seems unlikely, despite the fact that he was a police officer that his superiors would not have been informed of things considering it is likely they looked into his work record and time cards. The defense would also claim that Stroud had forced her to Durham the day prior to the murder also so they could “case” the area.
For the prosecution they had a lot going for the in my opinion. Despite the fact that Michael Hedgepeth testified that he could not positively identify Shannon as the woman that he saw on the morning of the murder they had a lot of other evidence. Shannon's vehicle had been processed and there was gunshot residue found in the front driver's seat of the car. They also had a co-worker of Shannon's named Ronald Simpson. Simpson would testify that in October of 2006 he had sold her a .38 Taurus Special and had showed her how to use it. He stated she said she needed it for protection. When confronted with this Shannon would now claim that she had thrown it away in a dumpster soon after getting it and throwing the ammunition away in a different dumpster. This was after she had claimed earlier to police that she did not, nor had she ever owned a gun. The murder weapon had never been found but according to forensics examiner who examined the bullet there were only a few guns that could have fired the fatal bullet and the .38 Taurus was one of them. They were able to determine that despite being a police officer Stroud did not own a .38 caliber weapon.
Phone records showed that on the day before the murder, while Shannon's phone was pinging in the area of Durham, Stroud's was pinging in Greensboro. I admit that I am sometimes iffy when it comes to phone records, but only when the distances between the two areas that are being looked at are close in proximity. That was not the case here has the two areas were nearly an hours drive from each other. In addition, to the phone records that determined where Shannon and Stroud were on the day of the murder. They were also able to determine where they were on the day of the alleged rape in 2008 when the distances were nearly an hour and a half away from each other.
One of the biggest things that Shannon had against her was all of her lies. There was the alleged lie (if we believe she's the woman Hedgepeth saw) that she lived in the apartment complex; the lie of the rape; the lie of saying Stroud was with her; and, the biggest lie of all that would come out in the courtroom. While she had been out on bond Shannon had taped a phone call that she alleged was between Stroud and herself. Oddly enough the defense argued against having it presented to the jury so that alone should tell you that they believed as the prosecution did, that the call was a set up and was fake. The person on the other end of the phone, who was allegedly supposed to be Stroud, had all but confirmed Shannon's story that it was Stroud who had killed Denita and had been involved. The problem here was that not only was Shannon unreasonably calm having the conversation but the persona who was allegedly Stroud sounded, as the prosecution said, “like Michael Jackson.” The voice was very low toned and yet high pitched. It sounded nothing like Stroud. It is unclear if the prosecution could ever determine who it was on the other end but apparently all agreed it was not Stroud. The prosecution was quick to point out all the lies Shannon had told and of all the time she had tried to implicate Stroud, not just in the murder of Denita but also in the alleged rape. The defense would also argue to not allow testimony about the fact that Shannon had obtained an abortion several months before the murder. The judge allowed it and the prosecution brought that testimony in through Stroud who would testify that it was soon after that he had ended his relationship with Shannon.
The jury would deliberate about seven hours over the course of two days. Just before their verdict was read the defense asked for a mistrial. In the trial the tapes of the supposed conversation between Stroud and Shannon, the one where he supposedly confessed, had been entered in it's entirety but the prosecution had played only a portion of it. During deliberations the jury asked to hear the tape and by doing so they actually heard more than what was presented at the trial. This was the argument that the defense had in asking for a mistrial. The judge denied it stating that since the evidence had been entered as a whole the fact that it was not played completely was inconsequential. The jury would find Shannon Crawley guilty of first degree murder on February 22, 2010. She was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. At her sentencing the judge would proclaim that Stroud “caused a perfect storm to happen and walked away from it.”
Upon leaving the courtroom Shannon's family would vow that Stroud was the one responsible and that they would spend their “dying breath” to prove it. Considering all of the evidence that I found in this case I doubt that they can or will ever be successful.
When a police officer is someone who is directly or indirectly involved in a crime one has to almost view the investigation with suspicion. There is the “blue code” often in which officers protect each other. However, one of the differences in this case was that the investigating department was not the department in which Stroud worked for so these were not his co-workers who were conducting the investigation. They are less likely to cover for an officer that is not in their department. Secondly, at least according to the prosecution and their witnesses, all of the evidence in fact did point to Shannon and away from Stroud. Even if we take out the phone records that showed where Shannon and Stroud were at specific times you cannot discount the other evidence. If we were to take Shannon Crawley's word as to what occurred on the day of the murder we are still left with how gunshot residue ended up in the front drivers seat of her vehicle. Even by her own account Stroud had not driven the car after the murder and it was she who drove away. To add to this Michael Hedgepeth who admittedly could not positively identify Shannon at her trial as being the woman that he saw he never claimed to have seen a man in the area just after he heard a shot fired. To be fair Hedgepeth would be forced to admit that the woman he saw come from the building and the woman he spoke to in the burgundy SUV was for sure the same woman as he saw the first woman from a big distance away and did not see her get into a vehicle. Without a map of the apartment complex it is difficult to know for sure how much he could have seen. However, Hedgepeth did not have “a dog” in this fight and gained nothing. He would clearly call the police just after hearing the shot fired and after Denita Smith was found he reported the woman in the burgundy vehicle to the authorities. Add to this despite her initial lies it was determined that Shannon had had access to a gun in which could have been used in the murder. Her explanation as to what happened to that gun seemed rather thin, at best.
To look at all of the evidence it would appear that Shannon lied about nearly everything, which of course did not help her. Maybe there were some fragments of truth to some of the things she said but the lies out weighed the truth so much that even those truths were likely looked at skeptically. Stroud admitted on the stand that he had dated both women at the same time and while that does not necessarily make him an upstanding individual, let alone finance, it does not make him a murderer. If we believe Stroud he had ended the relationship several months (or maybe even up to a year) prior to the murder with Shannon. It seems clear that Shannon knew about Denita, whether it was by seeing pictures of her, or Stroud's own admittance, it is unclear. However, I was unable to determine if Denita had learned of Shannon. Relationships can move past infidelity. It is possible that Stroud had told Denita and they moved past it without telling anyone that was close to them. But, we do not know. What we do know is that regardless of what Stroud did or did not do Shannon Crawley took matters into her own hands.