Friday, May 2, 2008

Dad to go on trial for young son's death

Richard Lamar Crawford, left, listens during his pretrial hearing to his attorney, James Tarquin. Crawford appeared before Judge Willard Pope at the Marion County Courthouse on Wednesday.
By Suevon Lee

Published: Sunday, April 27, 2008 at 6:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, April 27, 2008 at 6:20 a.m.

OCALA —Several days before his death, Coreyon Graham came home from school with two carnations. It was Valentine's Day, his kindergarten class had just had a party, and the 5-year-old wanted to present his grandmother and father with those tokens of love.

This is one of the last memories Alnethia Coley has of Coreyon, a sweet-faced child whom the 47-year-old describes as a happy, mischievous kid who, like most young boys, loved football, pizza, soda and SpongeBob SquarePants.

It seems a fitting description of a boy shown beaming in a photo, his shoelaces untied, that was taken on his first day of school.

As Coreyon's maternal grandmother and primary custodian, Coley has sought counseling to cope with her grandson's death, which occurred two years ago, reportedly as the result of a violent beating at the hands of a family member.

The state alleges it was the boy's father, Richard Crawford, 33, who killed him after Coreyon went to his home to stay over for the night. Investigators later recovered exposed cocaine, bags of marijuana and loaded firearms in the house.

Due to the heinous nature of the crime, prosecutors may seek the death penalty against Crawford, who is charged with first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse, when his trial begins this week.

"I don't know how to feel or what," Coley said in an interview Friday regarding the tragic event. "So many things have happened."

Coley, a state witness, said she has not spoken to Crawford since the day of the slaying but, given the chance, would ask him this: What occurred that day?

According to police reports, Coreyon was dropped off at his father's home in southwest Ocala the evening of Feb. 15, 2006, for an overnight visit.

Crawford, a convicted felon, had been stripped of custody of his seven children (he may have fathered 11 more, according to state child welfare reports) due to his convictions on charges of possessing and selling cocaine, and child battery. Nevertheless, he would occasionally dote on young Coreyon, according to Coley. He bought him clothes and a miniature motor scooter, and the two would play catch together.

The boy adored his father, and couldn't wait to show him the favorable report card he had just received in school, Coley said.

The following morning, Coreyon did not show up for kindergarten at Evergreen Elementary School. Tanisha Edwards, Coreyon's cousin staying over at the house that morning, told police how she had heard Crawford hitting Coreyon with a belt in another room of the house.

Crawford then left the home. Coreyon complained to Tanisha of feeling tired and ill; she told him to go lie down in another room. A couple of hours later, she found him cold to the touch and foaming at the mouth.

The 5th Circuit Medical Examiner later determined Coreyon suffered extensive bruising to his slight 45-pound frame, possibly from a belt, and that the blows to his upper torso were severe enough to knock his heart out of rhythm.

The state plans to introduce into evidence several belts recovered from Crawford's home, according to Assistant State Attorney Robin Arnold, who will be prosecuting the case this week along with Assistant State Attorney Janine Nixon.

"It's as serious as it gets," Arnold said of the case. "Anytime the death of a child is involved, it's serious."

The lawyers also plan to bring up Crawford's disappearance from Ocala shortly following the incident, which triggered a police manhunt that ended seven months later. Crawford was arrested in Newville, Pa., where he had been hiding out at the home of his half-brother.

A lengthy pretrial hearing before Circuit Judge Willard Pope last week demonstrated the swirl of circumstantial evidence potentially surrounding the case. Crawford's defense attorney James Tarquin argued against the state's motion to exclude from trial Coley's alleged history of hitting Coreyon and her other grandchildren when they were in her custody.

"This goes to the theory of our defense. There are two other causes [to Coreyon's death]: Ms. Edwards and Mrs. Coley," Tarquin said last Wednesday. Pope reserved ruling on the motion.

Coley, who works in the field of corrections, maintains she "very seldom" spanked her grandchildren, although she freely admits to having hit her own children when they were growing up. "I have learned different techniques," she said.

The Florida Department of Children and Families, nevertheless, stripped Coley of custody of her remaining grandchildren - then ages 12, 9, and 4 - three months after Coreyon's death. The children now live at her sister's home.

"What DCF said I did, I should have been in prison. It was just their word, no doctor statements, no pictures," said Coley, who now lives alone with her daughter, Bashema James, who was Coreyon's mother.

Coley said she will be present at the trial, to the extent the court will allow her to observe due to her role as a witness.

"I just want it over with," she said.

Jury selection is scheduled to begin on Monday.

Suevon Lee may be reached at or 867-4065.

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