Durham, N.C. — A jury on Monday found a former Guilford Metro 911 dispatcher guilty of killing a North Carolina Central University graduate student more than three years ago.
Jurors deliberated for about seven hours over two days before convicting Shannon Elizabeth Crawley of first-degree murder in the Jan. 4, 2007, shooting death of Denita Monique Smith.
Smith, 25, was shot in the head at Campus Crossing Apartments in Durham and then fell down a stairwell to the sidewalk, where a maintenance man found her body, police said.
"Someday, I may forgive you, but I don't right now," Smith's mother, Sharon Smith, told Crawley during sentencing. "I hope you rot in hell."
Crawley, 28, made no statement before Superior Court Judge Ronald Stephens sentenced her to life in prison without parole.
"I was thankful to God for the guilty verdict because I was glad that Denita didn't get murdered twice," her father, Calvain Smith, said after the trial. "In my opinion, the evidence spoke for itself. It couldn't have been no other verdict but a guilty verdict."
Authorities maintained that Crawley stalked Smith in a jealous rage because she had a former relationship with Smith's fiance, Greensboro police officer Jermeir Stroud.
Crawley contended that Stroud stalked her and killed Smith. She said she feared Stroud and did what he said only to protect her children from him.
She testified last week that Stroud drove her to Durham on the morning Smith was killed. He left the SUV for several minutes, she said, and she heard a brief argument followed by a gunshot.
When Stroud ran back to the SUV, she said, he began to back out before jumping into the back seat and ordering her to drive off.
"Now, (it's) my daughter who is the perfect victim," Anne Crawley said after the trial. "The perfect victim for someone like Jermeir Stroud has now been convicted of a murder that he committed."
"If it is the last thing I ever do, I will prove that he is the one that actually committed that crime,” said Crawley's father, Keith Crawley.
Calvain Smith said he remains angry with Stroud, who admitted during the trial that he dated Shannon Crawley and Denita Smith at the same time. Calvain Smith said he doesn't think Stroud did enough to protect his daughter.
"Jermeir Stroud caused a perfect storm to happen and then walked away from it, and that was unfortunate for everyone in this case,” Stephens said as he sentenced Crawley.
Greensboro Police Chief Tim Bellamy said Stroud was never a suspect in Smith's death, adding that he never heard any allegations linking the officer to the case until Crawley's defense brought it up in the trial
Monday's verdict came after Stephens denied a request by Crawley's attorney for a mistrial.
Jurors asked Monday morning to listen to recordings of what Crawley said were phone conversations between her and Stroud.
In one recording, a man acknowledged in a whisper that he had killed Smith but couldn't go to prison for it.
Defense attorney Scott Holmes complained that jurors were hearing more material on the tapes than they heard during the trial.
"There are substantially new materials that I did not have the opportunity to address in my closing argument," Holmes said. "I think it violates her Sixth Amendment right to counsel to now have stuff played for the jury that was not put in the state’s evidence and published to them. They had the opportunity to publish that entire tape during the case.”
Stephens denied Holmes' motion for a mistrial and allowed jurors to listen to the tapes. The tapes were put into evidence in their entirety, the judge said, and the fact that only portions were played for the jury during the trial was irrelevant.
Durham County Chief Assistant District Attorney David Saacks told Stephens that Holmes had access to all of the recordings "for two years" to prepare for trial.
Holmes said he plans to appeal the verdict.