Prosecutors said they will seek the death penalty for a Manchester Township man accused of killing his on-again, off-again girlfriend in June.
Ross William Crawford, 41, of 570 Harvest Drive, remains in York County Prison without bail, charged with first-degree murder and stalking.
Northern York County Regional Police said he killed C. Jennifer Dowell, 53, inside her 507 Cedar Village Drive home by hitting her on the head. She'd been dead for more than 24 hours when her body was discovered, according to police.
Dowell's body, covered with a blanket and towel, was found June 8 by a concerned co-worker, who fled the Manchester Township home after encountering a blood-covered and knife-wielding Crawford, police said.
When officers arrived and arrested Crawford, they discovered he'd inflicted numerous knife injuries to his own arms and neck in a botched suicide attempt, police said. They also found signs of a struggle, with furniture toppled and picture frames broken, court documents state.
'Extensive history': Prosecutors on July 24 filed notice of their intention to seek the death penalty.
The notice cites one aggravating factor -- that Crawford was subject to a court order prohibit
ing him from having any abusive contact toward Dowell, according to chief deputy prosecutor Jennifer Russell.
In Pennsylvania, prosecutors must present "aggravating factors" to argue for a death sentence, and defense attorneys then present "mitigating factors" to jurors.
Russell noted Crawford and Dowell shared "an extensive history" that included Crawford previously being arrested.
She confirmed Dowell suffered other injuries in addition to the head wound that killed her.
"The commonwealth is going to prove his intent was to kill her," Russell said. "It clearly wasn't an accident."
'Tragic accident': But senior assistant public defender Erin Thompson, who represents Crawford, disagrees.
"I'm not one of these people who's totally anti-death penalty. I think it has a place," she said. "But I do not think this is a case that warrants the death penalty. ... Assuming the allegations are true, I think this is a tragic accident."
Thompson said she doesn't think the sole aggravating circumstance is enough of a nexus for prosecutors to try for the death penalty.
"Yes, that allows them to seek it," she said. "But just because you can seek it doesn't mean you should."
Death-penalty cases also cost taxpayers much more than other murder cases, according to Thompson.
Provision at issue: Thompson said she's looking into whether to file a motion asking a judge to quash (set aside) the cited aggravator.
That's because Thompson isn't sure the "no abusive contact" provision Crawford was ordered to abide by was handed down by a York County common pleas judge, or by the county probation department.
"I believe it does make a difference," she said. "I believe it must be a court order and not just a probation condition (to be considered an aggravator)."
'My true love': Crawford left a number of notes in Dowell's home, according to documents; one stated, "I Love Life. But my true love is gone and got to join her."
He'd been out of prison for less than three weeks when Dowell was killed and was supposed to be on house arrest, according to court records, but his electronic monitoring had not yet been set up.
Court documents reveal Crawford and Dowell had a tumultuous, on-again, off-again relationship. Police arrested Crawford a number of times over the past three years for alleged crimes against Dowell, including aggravated assault, arson, burglary, making terroristic threats, theft and other offenses.
Some of those charges were dismissed because Dowell wouldn't appear in court to testify against him, records reveal.
-- Staff writer Liz Evans Scolforo can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.