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Defense: No evidence links suspect to NCCU student's death

Prosecutors say that Shannon Crawley is trying to frame her former boyfriend in the death of an N.C. Central graduate student.

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DURHAM, N.C. — The attorney for the woman accused of killing a North Carolina Central University graduate student more than three years ago argued Friday that prosecutors hadn't proved their case.

The prosecutor responded by saying that Shannon Elizabeth Crawley was trying to frame her former boyfriend for murder.

Crawley, 28, is charged with murder in the Jan. 4, 2007, shooting death of Denita Monique Smith, 25.

Smith 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.

Jurors deliberated for more than two hours Friday before heading home for the weekend. Deliberations are expected to resume Monday morning.

In his closing argument, defense attorney Scott Holmes told jurors that there was no evidence linking Crawley to Smith's slaying. He also pointed the finger again at Smith's fiance, Greensboro police officer Jermeir Stroud.

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

Crawley told police months after her arrest and told jurors Thursday that Stroud was the stalker. He begged her not to have an abortion and repeatedly called her and followed her.

She said she feared him and did what he said only to protect her children from him.

Crawley testified 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.

Durham County Chief Assistant District Attorney David Saacks said in his closing argument that Crawley's story was incredible and that she was trying to frame Stroud.

"She’s trying to play us," Saacks told jurors. "It is exactly what it appears to be. She is trying to set up Jermeir. She took out Denita, and she wants to get Jermeir. There’s no other rational explanation for this”

Holmes criticized police for not investigating Stroud as a suspect in Smith's slaying. He also called Stroud a liar, saying he was dating Crawley while he was engaged to Smith and he later was evasive with police about the extent of his relationship with Crawley.

"Do you believe Jermeir Stroud? Do you really believe Jermeir Stroud?" Holmes asked jurors Friday.

Crawley was trapped in a cycle of abuse, he said, which explains why she didn't seek help when Stroud showed up and forced her to go to Durham. That allowed Stroud to frame her for Smith's killing.

"Jermeir committed the murder," he said.

During Crawley's testimony Thursday, the defense played recordings of what she 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.

Saacks argued Friday that the recordings were phony.

”That doesn’t even sound like Jermeir, does it? It sounds like Michael Jackson, doesn’t it?” he said. "Does anybody truly believe that that makes any kind of sense, that somebody who did the things that she is saying Jermeir did would call and say those kind of things – basically just confess and admit to killing Denita?”

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Erin Hartness, Reporter
Pete James, Photographer
Matthew Burns, Web Editor

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