Chicago serial-killing trial: Jury selection begins in Andre Crawford case

Marion Lemott has spent nearly a decade waiting to see the man charged with murdering her daughter, waiting to look into the eyes of the man who authorities say is among the Chicago area's most prolific serial killers since John Wayne Gacy.

She finally had her chance Monday morning -- and Lemott missed it completely.

As the bald, bespectacled Andre Crawford sat at the defense table wearing a sage-colored Oxford shirt and jotting notes on a legal pad, Lemott assumed he was a lawyer.

She had no idea Crawford -- the Navy veteran accused of raping and killing 11 women on the South Side during the 1990s -- would look so normal.

"I didn't expect him to look like everyone else," Lemott said. "I thought he would look like evil."

Jury selection in Crawford's 11 murder cases began Monday, more than a decade after a serial killer terrorized the Englewood and New City neighborhoods, two of the city's most impoverished and crime-ridden areas. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.

Crawford, 47, also is standing trial in the attempted murder and rape of a 12th South Side woman.

He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

The hunt by Chicago police for an Englewood-area serial killer made headlines in the late 1990s but quickly disappeared from public consciousness after Crawford's arrest in January 2000. Little has been written about the case since then, and few, if any, of the 100 prospective jurors seemed to recognize his name as the charges against him were read in court.

With scores of pretrial motions and a dozen victims, the case has inched through the justice system over the last 10 years. Crawford has been awaiting trial longer than any other inmate in Cook County Jail.

"Too much time has gone by," said Glenford Lemott, whose sister Evandrey Harris was strangled in 1998. "People forget this happened, but not our family. We have waited more than 10 years for this day."

Just as Crawford's everyman appearance made it difficult for Harris' family to recognize him in court, authorities and old acquaintances said his ordinary demeanor allowed him to blend easily into his community. A friendly sort who never turned down good barbecue or Coqui malt liquor, Crawford participated in neighborhood watch programs and helped police pass out fliers seeking information on the serial killings.

"He was a mild-mannered guy," said Larry Crawford, a former friend who is not related to the accused. "He never degraded women or said anything that would make you think he was violent. He was a nice guy."

Authorities, however, painted a much darker picture of Andre Crawford after charging him with the brutal deaths of Harris, Patricia Dunn, Rhonda King, Angel Shatteen, Shaquanta Langley, Sonja Brandon, Nicole Townsend, Cheryl Cross, Tommie Dennis, Sheryl Johnson and Constance Bailey. Police say he confessed to all 11 killings and that his DNA physically linked him to seven of those crimes.

Crawford killed the South Side women after luring them to secluded areas with deals to swap drugs for sex, law enforcement officials said. Most of the victims were strangled, and many of the alleged sexual assaults took place after the victims were dead, according to court records.

Police said Crawford routinely took his victims' shoes and sold them on an Englewood street corner. He allegedly told officials that he kept one pair of designer shoes worn by Brandon, 31, after strangling her and resold them for $20.

Crawford, a transient who occasionally worked for the Chicago Sun-Times delivery operations, lived in two of the abandoned buildings where two victims were discovered, authorities said. He allegedly told police that he placed a victim's body in one building's flooded basement hoping the water would destroy the DNA evidence.

His defense team declined to comment, citing a gag order imposed by Judge Evelyn Clay, who is presiding over the case. In court documents, however, Crawford's lawyers maintain he made the statements after police threatened to place him in a jail cell with rival gang members, provided him with drugs and allowed him to get high.

The victims were all African-American women who authorities said engaged in "high-risk activities" such as prostitution and drug use. These women are common prey for serial killers, experts say.

"Serial killers pick on those who are vulnerable," said Steven Egger, a criminology professor at the University of Houston-Clear Lake. "They pick on those who don't fight back, and they pick on those who won't be missed."

Both Harris' and Johnson's families deny their relatives engaged in illicit activities, but even if the allegations were true, they say it would not make the women's lives less meaningful. "That does not give you license to kill somebody," Glenford Lemott said. "You don't deserve to die just because you have a sickness or a weakness."

The two families were the only relatives to attend the jury selection Monday, though they were asked to leave the courtroom because they could be called to testify during the trial. Both families said they support the prosecution's decision to seek the death penalty.

Tashanna Johnson, whose mother was strangled in April 1999, said she wants Crawford to pay for every Christmas and birthday her mother missed during the last decade. She also wants him to be held accountable for the fact that three grandchildren born since Sheryl Johnson's death will never know their grandmother.

"I want him dead," Tashanna Johnson said. "In my heart, I feel he doesn't need to be living. I want him to suffer like my mother suffered."

Marion Lemott, who immigrated with her family to the United States from Belize in the 1970s, is still paying off her daughter's funeral bills more than a decade after her death. She said she does not want her tax dollars to pay for Crawford's incarceration any longer than necessary.

"Why should we keep paying to feed him, to clothe him?" Lemott said. "My daughter is dead. I believe (in) an eye for an eye."