Judge rules to allow dying statement as evidence in Tracy Crews murder case
The decision paves the way for the state to recall Sheena Robinson-Crews, the victim’s widow, to the witness stand. She testified before the jury last week but was instructed not to discuss her husband’s final words after another judge previously ruled it was inadmissible, based on Robinson-Crews’ evolving recollection of her husband’s dying declaration.
The presiding judge, Andrew Smithson, heard from three witnesses at hearings held outside of the jury presence before making his decision. He said Robinson-Crews’ testimony was “straightforward” and that she could retake the stand in order for the state to ask questions about statements her husband made to her while she cradled him in her arms on a city street near a package liquor store Sept. 12, 2008.
Steven Lember, the defense attorney for William Brown, speaking before the court issued its decision, warned the prosecutor, Al Garcia, to “beware of getting what you wish for.”
As part of a third-party guilt defense that Robinson-Crews conspired with someone other than the defendants to have her husband killed, defense attorneys are expected to argue Robinson-Crews fabricated her husband’s dying declaration in order to shift suspicion away from her and on to Brown and Nigel Joseph Dawson. A jailhouse informant testified last week Dawson confessed to the murder.
But defense attorneys have pointed to lies and inconsistencies in the story Robinson-Crews gave investigators. She initially told police her husband responded that Brown and Dawson had shot him when she asked for the identity of the assailants.
Later, Robinson-Crews told police her husband mentioned only “Paperboy,” meaning Brown, when she asked who shot him.
Last week, the court heard from William Rivera, a city resident who was standing next to Robinson-Crews on the night in question. He told the court he was drinking at Whittaker Liquors and started walking home from the bar when he saw Crews dart into the street, clutching his neck.
Rivera said he repeatedly asked Crews what happened but Crews was unable to respond. Rivera said he bent down and put his ear within a foot of Crews’ mouth but Crews said nothing.
At that point, Rivera said he dialed 911 while Crews’ wife cradled her husband in her arms.
Smithson also heard from Barbara Portis, Crews’ mother, before making his decision. Portis said she was asleep when the phone rang at her city home sometime after midnight Sept. 13, 2008.
Portis testified at a hearing held outside the jury’s presence that she thought her daughter-in-law, who was eight months pregnant at the time, was going into labor.
The phone call was chillingly vague.
“I just called to tell you that you have to bury another son,” Robinson-Crews told Portis. One of Portis’ sons died when he drowned in a manmade lake, the family told The Trentonian.
Portis wouldn’t find out until hours later Crews died after he was shot in the neck.
Portis said she was caught off guard by Robinson-Crews’ initial statement and tried eliciting details from her. Robinson-Crews told Portis she had to go and hung up the phone a short time later. Portis dialed Robinson-Crews’ phone number several times but got no answer.
Later, Robinson-Crews called back and told Portis that Crews was hit in the mouth with a gun and had his “teeth pushed back.” Robinson-Crews phoned a third time, around 1:30 a.m. or 2 a.m., to tell Portis her son was shot, “Paperboy” and “Youngin’” — Dawson’s street nickname — had did it and to come to the police station.
Not knowing what to believe, Portis said she and family members hopped in a vehicle and went looking for her son at a local hospital. Once they arrived, hospital staff redirected them to police headquarters.
There, a police officer finally relayed the horrific news.
Portis said she was shocked because her son was at her house earlier in the day, dropping off his brother, Isaiah, who had run away.
Sometime later Sept. 13, Robinson-Crews showed up at Portis’ home. Portis asked her to explain her son’s last words. Robinson-Crews told Portis that Crews mentioned the defendants’ names and instructed her to tell family members he loved them.
Portis said she was confused by Robinson-Crews’ explanation.
“How long did he really talk to you to say all this?” Portis said in response to one of Lember’s question.
“Exactly,” Lember responded. “No further questions, your honor.”