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Supreme Court upholds Barton County conviction
Prosecutor error did not affect outcome
new slt Crawford kenneth
Kenneth Crawford - photo by photo from Kansas Department of Corrections 2012

The Kansas Supreme Court on Friday published a decision that upholds convictions of Kenneth “Kenny” D. Crawford, 59, for kidnapping, sexually assaulting and threatening a 12-year-old girl in Barton County in 2005.
The Court did find the prosecutor erred by using a “jigsaw puzzle” analogy to explain the state’s burden of proof to the jury, but ruled the error didn’t affect the outcome of the trial.
On Aug. 2, 2005, a man and woman were driving on a Barton County road when they saw a 12-year-old girl. They drove her to her mother’s workplace, and the girl’s mother called 911 after the girl reported she had been sexually assaulted by Crawford.
At trial, the girl testified that Crawford had come to her house to see her mother. When the girl told Crawford her mother was not home, he persuaded her to take a ride in his truck. He drove around for a while and then stopped in a rural area near the location where the couple found her. Crawford asked the girl to show him her breasts. When she refused, he replied, “What do you think we came down here for?”

The girl tried to get out of the truck and run away, but Crawford grabbed her and pulled her onto the ground. He straddled her, put his hand over her breast, and “smeared” his face over hers. The girl continually demanded that Crawford stop. She struggled with him, scratching him on his face and pinching his arm. During the struggle, her lip became bloodied. Crawford told her to shut up or he would kill her. A few minutes later she escaped and made her way to the place where the couple found her.

Evidence included Crawford’s DNA under the girl’s fingernails, along with tire marks and an oil spot where the attack occurred. Crawford’s truck leaked oil in a manner consistent with the oil spot.

Crawford was charged on Aug. 8, 2005, but his trial was delayed several times, once by the death of his court-appointed attorney. The jury trial commenced on Nov. 16, 2009, and Crawford was found guilty of aggravated kidnapping, aggravated indecent liberties with a child under 14 - fondling, and criminal threat - intending to terrorize. In January of 2010 the district court imposed consecutive sentences that added up to 28 years and one month in prison. He is incarcerated at Hutchinson Correctional Facility Central and his custody level is low medium. His earliest possible release date is Aug. 20, 2033.

Crawford was unsuccessful with appeals that claimed his statutory right to a speedy trial was violated, and that his prior criminal history was scored incorrectly in arriving at his sentence. Appeals that claimed the prosecutor committed multiple acts of prosecutorial misconduct became the topic of the latest appeal. Two errors alleged by Crawford were found to be without merit, but the High Court did find one instance where the prosecutor erred.

The error was in trying to explain “reasonable doubt” to the jurors. During voir dire – the interview of prospective jurors – and during closing arguments, the attorney likened it to a jigsaw puzzle that presents a clear picture even though some puzzle pieces might be missing.

During closing arguments, the prosecutor returned to the analogy, saying, “You get to determine credibility of witnesses, and when I talked in voir dire about the jigsaw puzzle, ... there are always going to be pieces of the puzzle missing because none of us were there. None of you were there. The question you got to ask yourself is just because a piece of the puzzle – pieces of the puzzle are missing, does that mean you can’t see the whole picture? Are those questions reasonable in your mind?”
Crawford argued the prosecutor misrepresented the definition of reasonable doubt and minimized the State’s burden of proof, and that the error justifies reversing his convictions.

The lesson to be learned, according to the recent ruling, is that attorneys should not attempt to explain “reasonable doubt,” since they might confuse jurors. The ruling notes that jurors don’t receive a court instruction that defines reasonable doubt because, “no definition could make the concept of ‘reasonable doubt’ any clearer than the words themselves.”