on report granted
Ruling lifts Crawford closer to appeal
Wednesday, May 01, 2002
A Dauphin County judge yesterday made it clear he wasn't buying prosecutors' arguments that a man imprisoned 28 years for murder was barred from appeals because his lawyer didn't ask what state police crossed out in a lab report.
President Judge Joseph H. Kleinfelter stopped short of ruling that Steven Crawford had the right to appeal based on lab reports that contradict trial testimony, and he gave attorneys two weeks to file briefs.
He scheduled an evidentiary hearing for June 24 to get to the merits of the appeal, something the district attorney's office has been trying to block on technicalities.
Under skeptical questioning by Kleinfelter, Chief Deputy District Attorney Francis T. Chardo insisted that Crawford's attorney should have questioned what was blotted out on a lab report when he saw it in 1995.
"Where's the flag?" Kleinfelter asked Chardo. "You're saying that based on a casual observation while an attorney is leafing through lab reports and he sees something is crossed out, he should think something nefarious is occurring and should assume it is exculpatory?"
Chardo claims Crawford waived the issue and is barred from raising it now because his former attorney, Francis N. Socha, didn't investigate further. He said portions of the crossed out words can be read if the report is held to the light.
Crawford's current attorneys, Jerry J. Russo and Joshua Lock, say Socha can't be held responsible for something the government was trying to hide.
At the time Socha was given the file containing the report, he was focusing on DNA testing.
He testified yesterday that he didn't recall seeing the report, but if he had, it wouldn't have piqued his interest, as alterations made it conform with testimony.
An unaltered version of the analysis of blood on Crawford's hand print was found last May in the briefcase of County Detective Walton D. Simpson, the lead investigator in the case who died in 1994.
It contradicted the testimony of Simpson, state police Cpl. John C. Balshy and Janice Roadcap, the state police chemist who did the test.
Their testimony was the only physical evidence to link Crawford to the Sept. 12, 1970, murder of John Eddie Mitchell in Crawford's family's detached garage.
Roadcap and the other officers testified unequivocally that microscopic flecks of blood were only on the ridges of the print and not in the valleys between them, leading them to conclude blood was on his hand when he left the print at the murder scene.
However, her unaltered lab notes say numerous particles in the valleys gave a positive reaction during the test for blood.
The reference to the particles in the valleys was scribbled out in the original report retrieved from State Police archives.
Crawford's trial attorney was given a one-sentence type-written report that said the blood was on the hand when it left the print.
Roadcap said she didn't mention the particles in the valleys in her testimony because they were small.
Kleinfelter told Chardo he was "Monday morning quarterbacking" because he had the advantage of seeing the unaltered report before the obliterated notes were retrieved from the archives.
Convicted three times of first-degree murder and sentenced to life, Crawford has spent the last 28 years in prison.
Insisting he is innocent, he has twice rejected deals to plead to a lesser degree of murder in return for his freedom, including one that still remains on the table.
Lock said he has only one witness to call at the June 24 hearing, presumably Roadcap, "who may have some explaining to do."
Chardo said he intends to call blood-spatter expert Herbert McDonell to testify that the flecks in the valleys would not change the opinion he gave at Crawford's last trial that the blood was on his hand when he left it on the car next to Mitchell's body.
McDonell, when first told of Roadcap's unaltered report, told The Patriot-News and the defense that it would have changed his opinion.
Chardo said he would show the new evidence is "of no moment" to Crawford's guilt or innocence.
After yesterday's hearing Lock said he was heartened that the truth may finally come out.
"The notion that tampering with evidence and hiding it from a defendant for 28 years is of 'no moment' is not only ludicrous, it is shameful," Lock said.
Mitchell, 13, a carrier for The Patriot-News, was bludgeoned to death with a sledgehammer for the $32 he had collected on his paper route that day.
Crawford was 14 years of age at the time and was friends with Mitchell.
Two other men have admitted participating in Mitchell's murder, however, their full stories never came out in court.
PETE SHELLEM: 255-8156 or firstname.lastname@example.org