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Fiance suspected ex-girlfriend in NCCU student's death

A Greensboro police officer killed a North Carolina Central University graduate student more than three years ago, the attorney for the woman accused of the crime said Wednesday as her trial began.

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DURHAM, N.C. — A Greensboro police officer said Thursday that he immediately suspected his ex-girlfriend when he heard something had happened to his fiancee three years ago.

Jermeir Stroud testified that his suspicions led him to tip off Durham police that Shannon Elizabeth Crawley might have killed Denita Monique Smith.

Crawley, 28, of Greensboro, is charged with murder in the Jan. 4, 2007, death of Smith, a 25-year-old North Carolina Central University graduate student. Smith was shot once in the back of the head and fell down a stairwell at Campus Crossing Apartments in Durham, police said. A maintenance man found her body on a sidewalk.

Stroud said he was at home in Greensboro when he got a call from Smith's mother saying her daughter had been hurt.

"I knew it was something pretty sudden, and one of the things that popped through my head, based on my recent interactions with Shannon, was that maybe she had done something," he testified.

Police arrested Crawley, a dispatcher for Guilford Metro 911 in Greensboro, five days after the shooting.

Prosecutors have argued that Crawley stalked Smith in a jealous rage because she had a previous relationship with Stroud.

Stroud testified that he dated both women at the same time but broke up with Crawley shortly after she became pregnant and had an abortion. Smith never knew about his other relationship, he said, and shortly before her death, Crawley saw the couple in church.

In 2008, Stroud said, Crawley accused him of raping her. The case was investigated by Charlotte police, but no charges were filed.

Defense attorney Scott Holmes told jurors in his opening statement Wednesday that Stroud killed Smith during an argument and then fled with Crawley back to Greensboro.

Holmes called Stroud manipulative and controlling and said Crawley went with him to Durham out of fear.

He didn't press the point during cross-examination Thursday. Instead, he tried to paint the relationship between Stroud and Crawley as something more than Stroud said it was.

Stroud accompanied Crawley to doctor's appointments, Holmes said, and he checked on her repeatedly when she had to travel for a death in her family.

"Is it fair to say you could have called 10 times in one day?" Holmes asked.

"It's possible, but I don't recall the amount of times I called," Stroud replied.

Earlier Thursday, Michael Hedgepeth, the maintenance man who found Smith's body, testified that he saw a woman who matched Crawley's description pulling out of the apartment complex's parking lot on the morning of the shooting.

Hedgepeth said he had heard what sounded like gunfire and he found the woman crying hysterically in the driver's seat of an SUV. He said she wanted him to stay with her, but then she drove off when he went to check on the source of the gunfire.