Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Wood Chipper Murder Case

A Verdict Arrives

The mistrial was a bitter disappointment, not only for the family of Helle Crafts but also for the team of police investigators and forensic scientists who had worked diligently on the case since December 1986. "We worked for the first three months, day and night," Dr. Lee told reporters, "and subsequently off and on for almost a year and a half." However, a new trial was quickly agreed upon. Again, due to an avalanche of publicity concerning the gruesome details of the case, the venue was changed to Norwalk, Connecticut. On September 7, 1989, the second trial of Richard Crafts opened under a cloud of uncertainty. Prosecutors were well aware that a conviction in any criminal case, no matter how persuasive the evidence may be, is never guaranteed.

The second trial was a virtual replay of the first. The same witnesses testified, the same damning evidence implicated Richard Crafts as he sat at the defense table, seemingly unmoved by the proceedings. Crafts always maintained a detached air about him, as if he was preoccupied with other matters. The forensic odontologists testified to the recovered dental items, the witnesses testified to Richard Crafts' behavior, both before and after Helle's disappearance and the unflappable Dr. Lee returned to explain the remaining evidence to an appreciative jury.

When the case finally went to the jury on November 20, it took only eight hours to reach a unanimous verdict. Crafts was found guilty of murder beyond any question. Eleven men and one woman felt the evidence easily supported a guilty verdict. "Richard Crafts could not have asked for a more fair jury," said one juror. "It's corny, but the system works." As usual, Crafts showed no emotion when the verdict was announced. "The totality of the evidence was overwhelming," another juror told the Danbury News-Times. The verdict was announced on November 21, 1989, almost three years to the day when Helle was murdered. In January 1990, Richard Crafts, unrepentant and defiant as always, received a sentence of 99 years in state prison.

State Attorney Flanagan told the press afterwards, "Twenty three of twenty four people were convinced that he was guilty beyond question. That's a pretty good standard of proof, isn't it?"
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