COLUMBIA — A jury found Taron Crawford guilty of second-degree murder and armed criminal action on Thursday in a retrial for a 2003 shooting in which an MU sophomore was killed.
After two hours of deliberation, a jury from Johnson County handed down the guilty verdict for Crawford, 26, of Kansas City, Kan., who shot MU sophomore Charles Blondis, 20, on Nov. 16, 2003, during a fight at a party they both attended.
Crawford was granted a retrial because his attorney in the first trial, Roderick Smith, was deemed ineffective for his lack of persistence in the trial. Smith was later disbarred for reasons not pertinent to the Crawford trial.
In the retrial, held in the court of 13th Circuit Judge Gene Hamilton, the defense maintained that Crawford fired shots in the air and did not mean to kill Blondis. They claimed Blondis' fatal wound was the result of a ricocheting bullet.
In opening statements on Wednesday — and again on Thursday in his closing statements — Assistant Public Defender Tony Manansala called the incident a "tragic accident."
The defense called four witnesses to the stand on Thursday, including Crawford who said he displayed and fired the gun to scare partygoers who were involved in the altercation.
Candice Bunny, a friend of Crawford's who was present during the incident, also testified on Thursday that Crawford fired the shots into the air.
The defense also called John Cayton, a private ballistics expert hired by the public defender's office, who said that because of damage to the bullet recovered from Blondis' body, he could not rule out that it ricocheted or that it entered his body going forwards or backwards.
Witnesses called by the prosecution on Wednesday had contended that it was unlikely that the bullet that killed Blondis was a richochet and that Crawford had indeed pointed the gun in Blondis' direction.
Eddie Adelstein, the Boone County medical examiner, testified on Wednesday that the shape of the wound in Blondis' chest was "inconsistent" with a ricochet, as did Kathleen Green, a ballistics expert with the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
Three witnesses who were called to the stand by the prosecution on Wednesday said they saw Crawford pointing the gun at Blondis.
In his closing arguments, Assistant Prosecutor Andrew Scholz said the notion of a ricocheting bullet was "ridiculous," and Crawford wanted revenge for losing a fight.
"The defendant's actions, the defendant's revenge, are why he's gone," Scholz said in reference to Blondis.
After the verdict on Thursday, Manansala said the public defender's office would be seeking an appeal.
Scholz said he was happy with the verdict and commended the Columbia Police Department for their work in investigating the case.
"The only job I have is to not screw up," Scholz said.
Alba Blondis, Charles Blondis' mother, said she was "relieved" by the verdict. Echoing a statement made by Scholz during his closing arguments, she said the defense had tried to cast fog over the truth.
"I think that reality and truth rose from that fog and prevailed," she said.
The 2003 incident occurred at Riva Ridge Court at a party. During a fight that took place outside the house, Crawford drew a .22 caliber pistol and fired three shots, one of which hit Blondis in the chest.
Crawford then fled the scene and went to the apartment of a woman he was staying with in Columbia at 802 Claudell Lane. Police located the apartment and found the weapon in the yard behind the building, along with cartridges and surgical gloves both at that location and in Crawford's vehicle.
Crawford was convicted of second-degree murder and armed criminal action in November 2004 and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.