Crawford trial opens, sordidly

"We found a female body lying on a bed," testified Charlottesville police officer Lynn Childers this afternoon on the first day of the trial of Anthony Dale Crawford, the Manassas man who stands accused of killing and raping his wife and creepily posing her body in a Charlottesville motel room.

Childers testified that the hotel manager summoned her to Quality Inn on Emmet Street to investigate an overdue room with a "strange odor." What she found in the early morning of November 22, 2004 was the body of Sarah Louise Crawford, 33, who had filed a protective order against the defendant just weeks before her death. The room was registered to Dale Crawford, who had arrived at the Quality Inn in Sarah Crawford's maroon Hyundai Sonata. Though there were no signs of Sarah's belongings, his clothes were found inside the room and his DNA was on several cigarette butts on the table next to the bed. He was later arrested driving the car near Jacksonville, Florida.

Defense attorney Rhonda Quagliana, however, didn't address how or why the shooting might have occurred. Rather, she promised a defense based on unanswered questions. While Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Jon Zug portrayed Sarah Crawford, an office manager at a video production firm, as a woman desperate to leave her unhappy marriage behind, Quagliana painted a different picture. Sarah, she said, was still in love with– not in fear of– her husband. Although he was unemployed, not long before her death, Sarah had paid for him to fly to a truck-driving school in Tennessee. Quagliana promised she would present evidence– including records of a three-hour telephone call– that in the weeks before she died, Sarah Crawford was in regular voluntary contact with her husband and simply didn't want to admit as much to her friends and family.
One thing jurors may not hear is that this isn't the first time Crawford has stood accused of a ghastly crime of domestic violence. In 1992, despite a graphic video depicting him having sex with his then-wife who was bound, gagged and blindfolded, he beat charges of spousal rape in South Carolina.
But Zug suggested today in the opening argument that what Crawford did after this killing goes beyond ghastly. As Zug revealed that semen was found in every orifice of Sarah Crawford's body and that her naked corpse was left posed in the bed, spectators were left to come to their own grim conclusions of how– and when– the alleged rape occurred.

“If he couldn’t have her, nobody could,” said Zug, speaking to the newly selected jury, including two alternates, of eight women and six men. With a smiling picture of Sarah Crawford displayed on a large-screen TV behind him, Zug spent more than 30 minutes describing a woman finally gathering the strength to leave an abusive relationship behind.

“She’d lost a lot of weight and was feeling good about who she was,” said Zug. “She had good friends and a loving and supportive family.” Less than three weeks before her death, she’d also moved out of the apartment she’d shared with Crawford, and on November 1 she took out a protective order against him, citing a long history of domestic violence including rape and death threats.

On November 18, Sarah Crawford met her parents at the Outback Steakhouse in Dale City. That was the last confirmed sighting of her.

The trial resumes tomorrow morning.