Settlement: York County paid $550K to estate of murder victim

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch
Ross Crawford

York County has paid more than a half-million dollars to the estate of a murder victim whose ex-boyfriend beat her to death in her home while he was supposed to be on house arrest.

A settlement agreement provided by civil-rights attorney Devon Jacob indicates the county admitted no wrongdoing when it paid the $550,000 settlement to the estate of Cherylann Dowell, who also went by C. Jennifer Dowell.

"Nobody pays over a half-million dollars unless they did something wrong," Jacob told The York Dispatch.

As of 2 p.m. Tuesday, July 23, York County had not responded to a request for comment.

A federal lawsuit against York County and various employees has been dismissed, but it remains active against Ross Crawford, according to the attorney.

Crawford, 48, formerly of Manchester Township, pleaded guilty Jan. 11, 2016, to third-degree murder, stalking and obstruction of justice. That was the day his death-penalty murder trial was set to begin.

C. Jennifer Dowell

He admitted killing Dowell inside her Village Drive home in Manchester Township in June 2012.

As part of his negotiated plea agreement, he was sentenced to 24½ to 49 years in state prison.

Never forget: Jacob said Dowell's three sons want to hold Crawford — who could be released in the future — accountable.

"The family wants to make sure he never forgets what he did to their mother," Jacob said.

Crawford, who had a history of domestic abuse against Dowell, was supposed to be on house arrest and electronic monitoring after being released from York County Prison  but was not.

"For whatever reason, York County did not do that," Jacob said. "And while he was roaming free, he murdered Ms. Dowell."

The attorney said apparently an electronic-monitoring cuff bracelet wasn't available for Crawford at the time of his release, but the probation department failed to notify the court that they couldn't adhere to the house-arrest order and allowed Crawford to remain free without electronic monitoring.

Compounding the issue, Jacob said, was the fact that the county probation department assigned what was essentially a new probation officer — one with no experience in domestic violence issues — to monitor Crawford.

Nothing done? A probation department supervisor was so concerned about the situation that he spoke with the then-chief of the department, Al Sabol, according to Jacob.

"Sabol's response was not to do anything," the attorney said.

Jacob said the $550,000 has already been paid to Dowell's estate and that some of it came from the county itself and some from its insurer. The estate is represented by one of Dowell's three adult sons, but all three are involved in the lawsuit, he said. 

"The money will not replace their mother, but the money makes the point that York County caused the opportunity that permitted their mother to be murdered," Jacob said, adding that he hopes the settlement ensures "nothing like this happens again."

York-area man avoids death-penalty trial with last-minute guilty plea

The background: Crawford was supposed to be on house arrest when he fatally beat Dowell, then slashed his own neck and arms in a botched suicide attempt. He'd been out of York County Prison less than three weeks.

Criminal court filings spanning nearly three years told part of the story of the couple's tumultuous relationship.

Northern York County Regional Police filed charges against Crawford over and over — for arson, aggravated assault, simple assault, burglary, making terroristic threats, unlawful restraint, theft and other offenses — until eventually charging him with Dowell's slaying.

Sometimes Dowell testified against Crawford, but sometimes charges against him, including serious ones, were dismissed because she wouldn't appear to testify against him.

Dowell obtained a temporary protection from abuse order against Crawford in August 2010, but it was dismissed with prejudice a few weeks later when she failed to appear for a hearing on the matter, court records state.

In that petition, Dowell stated Crawford had set her home on fire, physically assaulted her and destroyed all her personal and business records.

Botched suicide: Dowell had been dead at least 24 hours hours when a concerned co-worker went to her home and discovered her body, covered by a sheet or blanket, police have said. The co-worker fled after seeing Crawford there, covered in blood and holding a knife, police said.

Crawford initially forced a standoff with police by barricading himself inside Dowell's home and claiming to have a weapon, but his defense attorney, public defender Erin Thompson, has said Crawford never had a weapon.

"He was trying to give himself time to bleed out (and die)," she said. That standoff was the basis of the obstruction charge, she confirmed.

'Textbook' case: Former first assistant district attorney Jennifer Russell has described the murder as "a textbook case of what can end up happening" to domestic-violence victims who remain involved with their abusers.

"One time is too many times," she said of domestic abuse. "Somebody who loves you doesn't threaten you, doesn't make you feel unsafe, doesn't hurt you."

Dowell suffered head trauma as well as injuries to other parts of her body.

"She was badly beaten," Russell has said.

— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.