Man pleads guilty to beating boy, 6, to death


A Columbia man who told police investigators that he "just snapped" when he beat a 6-year-old boy to death pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in Howard Circuit Court yesterday.

Anthony Lee Crawford, 31, could be sentenced to 25 years in prison for the Aug. 3 death of a Nashville, Tenn., boy killed while visiting him for the summer, according to a plea agreement outlined before Judge Raymond Kane Jr.

Crawford sobbed as county prosecutors detailed the injuries that doctors and state medical examiners found on the body of Christopher Flye, whose mother is a friend of the defendant's.

Assistant State's Attorney Shirley Ripley said that an autopsy showed that Christopher died from blunt force trauma to the head that caused internal bleeding and swelling in the brain.

Medical examiners found evidence of 13 blows to the boy's head, among other injuries, Ms. Ripley said.

Crawford told police investigators that two days before Christopher's death he had heard several "thumps" coming from the bathroom where the boy was taking a bath, Ms. Ripley said.

The man told the detectives that he "just snapped" when he went to the bathroom and then began repeatedly striking Christopher in the face because the rest of the boy's body was submerged in bath water, Ms. Ripley said.

" 'This was the worst beating I ever gave Christopher,' " the prosecutor quoted Crawford as saying in a statement he gave to investigators.

Crawford also admitted to police that he struck Christopher with a paddle and switch, Ms. Ripley said.

Doctors treating the boy on the day of his death at Howard County General Hospital found numerous injuries over his body, including burn marks on the buttocks, Ms. Ripley said.

The injuries were described as no more than a week old.

Crawford was indicted about two weeks after the boy's death on charges of first-degree murder, assault, battery and child abuse. He could have been sentenced to life in prison had he been found guilty of those charges.

Judge Kane is to sentence Crawford on Jan. 4 for the second-degree murder conviction. The judge ordered Crawford to undergo a presentence investigation by the county Office of Parole and Probation before the sentencing hearing.

Second-degree murder carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison; prosecutors said they will not seek a prison term of more than 25 years.

Assistant Public Defender Richard Bernhardt, who is representing Crawford, is expected to argue for a more lenient sentence.

If Judge Kane wants to sentence Crawford beyond the 25-year term, the defendant will be permitted to withdraw from the agreement and have a trial for his case.

Ms. Ripley said that police investigators who handled the case and the boy's mother, Zelda Flye of Nashville, consented to the plea agreement.

"This plea agreement has been approved by the victim's mother," Ms. Ripley told Judge Kane. "She was advised of the plea negotiations and is in agreement with this."

According to a police report read by Ms. Ripley in court, Crawford called 911 from his apartment in the 5100 block of Brook Way on Aug. 3, saying that he needed an ambulance for Christopher.

He told emergency dispatchers that Christopher had fallen in a bathtub two days earlier and was having trouble breathing, Ms. Ripley said. Crawford also said the boy was "bruised up."

While on the line with dispatchers, Crawford went to check on Christopher and then reported that he had stopped breathing, Ms. Ripley said. A dispatcher instructed Mr. Crawford to perform CPR on the boy.

When paramedics arrived at the apartment, Crawford met them outside while holding Christopher in his arms, Ms. Ripley said. The boy was wearing only a diaper.

An investigator later questioned Crawford, who reported that Christopher had fallen off the toilet and struck his head on a shelf earlier on Aug. 3, Ms. Ripley said.

However, medical officials who examined Christopher said he could not have received the injuries from a fall, Ms. Ripley said. In a police interview on Aug. 4, Crawford admitting to striking Christopher

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