Trial in shooting to begin

A Kansas man is charged in the slaying of Charles Blondis, an MU sophomore killed last fall.
Wednesday, November 3, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 2:04 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

When MU student Charles Blondis was shot and killed in the early hours of Nov. 16, police quickly came to the conclusion that the shooter was a 20-year-old man from Kansas City, Kan. Officers arrested Taron Crawford later that morning at an apartment on West Worley Street.

But when Crawford’s trial begins today, his attorney could present some surprising testimony. Court records suggest that defense attorney Roderick Smith will call two witnesses who allegedly heard another man claim to be the one who fired the fatal shot. That man is also one of the five potential defense witnesses in the case.

Smith declined to answer specific questions about the man’s alleged admission but said he was a friend of Crawford’s who was with him at the party.

Charlie Blondis was a well-liked 20-year-old spending a Saturday night with his friends. They had joined about 100 other young people for a party Blondis had helped plan at a friend’s apartment on Riva Ridge Court.

According to police and eyewitness accounts, all was going well until one man groped another man’s girlfriend. The two men got into an argument, and as the altercation intensified, the men walked outside, followed by a crowd of onlookers, including Blondis. Friends of the two men soon joined in, making verbal assaults, and a fight broke out.

The growing brawl woke a neighbor, who called the Columbia Police Department. As officers headed to the party, the neighbor called again to report that three shots had been fired. Blondis was pronounced dead at the scene.

Police began to piece together why the sophomore, who was not involved in the fight, had been shot. Their attention turned to Crawford, an uninvited guest who was in Columbia visiting his girlfriend.

Police said witnesses identified Crawford as the shooter. He entered the fight for an unknown reason, police said, and allegedly fired three shots in the direction of Blondis, whom he did not know.

Later that morning, police officers tracked Crawford back to his girlfriend’s apartment, where, according to court records, he admitted he shot Blondis. The records also say Crawford told them the location of his gun, which was recovered. Crawford was charged with second-degree murder and armed criminal action.

But Smith denies several aspects of the information police provided.

“I think, from what I have seen, there is a misperception about the circumstances,” Smith said.

He said that while police say they arrested Crawford at his girlfriend’s Columbia Square apartment, Crawford was actually apprehended at another apartment. Smith also said some witnesses described the shooter as having braids, while Crawford had “low-cut hair.” The shooter’s clothing, as described by some witnesses, did not match what Crawford was wearing that night, Smith said.

Smith denies that Crawford ever implicated himself in the shooting.

“At no point did he provide a statement saying that he intentionally shot Mr. Blondis,” Smith said. “In fact, he said the opposite, that he did not shoot him.”

Smith said he is confident in the facts of the case but is worried that race could be a factor at the trial.

“The circumstances are that a young, white college student was allegedly shot by a young, black person from the Kansas City area,” he said. “I’m hoping the people on the jury can look past that issue and listen to the facts.”

Boone County Assistant Prosecutor Dan Knight, who is trying the case for the state, declined to comment. Court records indicate that the prosecution has 55 potential witnesses, including 26 law-enforcement officers from the Columbia Police Department, the Boone County Sheriff’s Department and the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

The trial, which begins at 9 a.m. today, is expected to last two or three days.

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