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Judge declares mistrial in Crawford case

Feb. 20, 2008 @ 11:56 PM

HUNTINGTON -- Just the moment that Deanna L. Crawford's family started getting answers, the murder trial connected to her death was postponed yet again.

Cabell Circuit Judge John Cummings declared a mistrial in the strangulation case Wednesday morning.

Justin Black, 24, of Salt Rock is charged with murder in connection with Crawford's death. Passersby found her body in August 2002 in a remote area of Hickory Ridge Road in Salt Rock.

Black's attorneys requested the mistrial, after West Virginia State Police Cpl. Kim Pack made mention of the defendant's willingness to take a polygraph test in January 2007. The comments occurred in the jury's presence and during cross-examination. Attorneys for both sides agreed that Pack slipped and did not mean to mention the test.

Defense attorney Ashley Lockwood told the judge, "just the mere mention of that would taint a jury." Lockwood said he felt certain that occurred in Black's case, and Cabell County Prosecutor Chris Chiles did not object. The prosecutor said Black was entitled to a mistrial.

Cummings had excluded results of Black's polygraph test at an earlier hearing.

The judge rescheduled Black's trial for April 14. He told the jury polygraph tests are not admissible at trial and cannot be mentioned to a jury. He told attorneys he could have instructed the jury to ignore mention of the polygraph tests, but he believed doing so would have increased the likelihood of an appeal court's reversal by 90 percent.

"Polygraphs are a tool, but they are not reliable," Cummings told jurors. "They are not reliable enough to stake years of freedom on and cannot be mentioned."

The move disappointed Crawford's family. A large sigh was heard in the courtroom when Cummings announced his decision. The ruling followed a nearly half-hour recess.

Crawford's father, Terry Crawford, remembered his daughter as good girl, who later became mixed up with drugs. His family had waited more than five-and-a-half years for someone to face a jury. He called the mistrial unfortunate and said his family is left with little choice but to wait.

"You wait for your day in court, it finally it comes and then this happens," he said. "You never want to see something turned over on a technicality."

Crawford's mother, Brenda Bailey, had hoped the trial would continue, but she said the mistrial was understandable. She believes the trial will provide justice and possibly answer questions about what motivated her daughter's death.

"I would rather wait a few more months than to have him completely cleared of any charges," she said.

Black's co-defendants are Brian Emerson Dement, 27, of Huntington; Phillip Scott Barnett, 27, of Barboursville; and Nathaniel Todd Barnett, 25, of Salt Rock. The four suspects ranged in age from 19 to 22 when Crawford's body was found.

The Barnett brothers are awaiting trial.

Dement pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in October 2007. He is awaiting sentencing.

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