Kansas man convicted of murder of MU student may get retrial

Wednesday, May 14, 2008 | 10:02 p.m. CDT; updated 11:05 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 15, 2009

COLUMBIA — A Kansas man convicted of the 2003 slaying of a MU student may get a new trial.

On Tuesday, the Missouri Western District Court of Appeals upheld the ruling by Boone County Circuit Judge Gene Hamilton that Taron Crawford deserved a new trial because of ineffective counsel. The state had filed an appeal to Hamilton’s decision but was unsuccessful.

“We’re disappointed by the outcome, but there’s nothing to do now but get ready for trial,” Boone County Chief Prosecutor Dan Knight said.

A jury convicted Crawford of killing Charles Blondis in November 2004 and sentenced him to 25 years in prison for second-degree murder and armed criminal action. He is incarcerated in Crossroads Correctional Center in Cameron.

Crawford was at a party on Nov. 16, 2003, when a fight broke out between two men over the treatment of a woman at the party. Shots were fired, and Blondis, an MU student, was fatally wounded in the chest. Police recovered the murder weapon from the backyard of the apartment where Crawford was staying.

During Crawford’s first trial, the defendant’s attorney, Roderick Smith, objected when Knight questioned Crawford about the reliability of other witnesses. Hamilton overruled the objection, and Smith failed to continue to object.

The court on Tuesday ruled that prior counsel was ineffective because of his lack of persistence.

“The fact that I objected but did not continue to object apparently warranted their (the court’s) decision,” Smith said. He added, “I am sure they made the right decisions and if it works out for Crawford then I am happy for him.”

Smith, whom Crawford’s family hired in the original trial, has been disbarred since the trial — but not for actions related to his representation of Crawford.

Alba Blondis said Knight was dedicated to her son’s case and did a good job in his original prosecution. She lays the responsibility for the retrial on Hamilton’s shoulders.

“I’m perplexed by his change of mind,” she said.

She said she saw the reasoning for the retrial “as a manipulation of the justice system. ... This is a failure of our court systems to support the victims of a crime.”

Knight still has some options.

Assistant Attorney General Shaun Mackelprang said the state could still ask the appellate court to reconsider its ruling, or ask the Missouri Supreme Court to consider the case. The Attorney General’s office handles appeals on behalf of prosecutors in the state of Missouri.

“Over the next 15 days we will consider whether a motion for rehearing to the court of appeals, or an application for transfer to the Missouri Supreme court, is warranted,” he said.

If the retrial does proceed, the Blondis family plans to attend. But Alba Blondis said it will be a painful experience for her.

“I have to sit in a courtroom and look at (Crawford),” she said. “It dredges up all the emotions and the pain of what happened.”

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