DURHAM — In a courthouse corridor swirling with television cameras, one family celebrated justice for its dead daughter. Another wept and cursed, helpless to rescue its daughter from life in prison.
The man in the middle of a deadly love triangle was nowhere to be found.
"Jermeir Stroud caused a perfect storm to happen and walked away from it," said Superior Court Judge Ronald Stephens, after a 12-member jury found Stroud's former mistress, Shannon Crawley, guilty of killing his fiancee, Denita Smith.
As the prosecution told the story, and as jurors apparently believed it, Crawley tried over and over to frame Stroud for the murder of Smith, a graduate student at N.C. Central University, in January 2007.
Four months after the murder, police say, Crawley concocted a story in which Stroud forced her to Durham then left her in her Ford Explorer as he climbed to the second floor of Smith's apartment building, argued with her, shot her in the back of the head, ran back to the vehicle, shoved his handgun into his waistband, then hid in the back seat as she drove away.
A year later, authorities say, Crawley recorded fake telephone conversations and tried to pass them off as Stroud confessing to her. When that didn't convince investigators, Crawley falsely accused Stroud of raping her in Charlotte a year and a half after the murder.
In an emotional interview outside the courtroom Monday, Crawley's father again pointed the finger at the man who patrols the streets of Greensboro as a police officer.
"If it's the last thing I ever do, I will prove that he is the one who committed this murder," said Keith Crawley, who with his wife sat for two weeks behind their daughter in a courtroom filled with loved ones seeking justice for Smith.
Hands shot up in jubilation when Stephens announced the verdict, and heads nodded when he directed partial blame toward Stroud, who faces no charges in the crime.
After the trial, the Greensboro officer answered his cell phone, the same phone whose records helped to clear him of the rape allegation. He declined to comment on the case.
The trial showed that Stroud made a habit of lying about his relationship with Crawley to Smith, her family and police. But the jury decided the evidence pointed at Crawley, whose own lies struck closer to the heart of the case. She lied about driving to Durham the day before the murder, about a gun she had bought a few months earlier, about a doctor's appointment on the morning of the murder and about whether or not she lived in Smith's apartment complex.
If the jury is right that Stroud's taped confessions were fake, that would be Crawley's biggest lie of all.
Crawley's attorney, Scott Holmes, tried to keep those tapes out of evidence last week, and when the judge allowed them, the defense attorney took them head-on, asking his client why her voice sounds strangely calm and Stroud's voice sounds "more like Michael Jackson." The defendant said her former lawyers had told her to stay calm and try to get Stroud to confess if he called her.
On Monday, Holmes called for a mistrial after the jury asked to listen again to the tapes, even some they hadn't heard when Assistant District Attorney David Saacks had introduced them into evidence last week. Stephens said Crawley had had access to the tapes for the past two years and could have addressed any portion of them during the trial.
In an impromptu news conference after Crawley's sentencing, her family insisted the confessions were real.
"My daughter, who is the perfect victim for someone like Jermeir Stroud, now has to spend the rest of her life in prison," Anne Crawley said.
As the Crawley family mourned the imprisonment of a daughter, sister and mother of two preteens, the Smith family felt a grim sense of justice.
Given the chance to speak to Crawley before the sentence, Sharon Smith did not mince words.
"You took my baby away from me, and she wasn't yours to take," said the victim's mother. "There's no man worth anything like that. Someday, I may forgive you, but I don't. Right now, I hope you rot in hell. You're vile."
Crawley said nothing when Stephens gave her the chance.
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