Was Lawrence Crawley a spurned lover seeking revenge? Or was he so consumed by rage that he didn’t realize what he was doing when he stabbed, then repeatedly ran over Angela Stith with his truck outside her workplace?
Crawley’s fate is in the hands of a Montgomery County jury, which on Tuesday heard the details of Stith’s slaying, the first in nearly two decades in Whitemarsh Township.
Crawley, 34, of North Philadelphia, is charged with first- and third-degree murder as well as making false statements when trying to purchase a firearm. The trial, overseen by County Judge Thomas C. Branca, is expected to last through Friday.
Assistant District Attorney Allison Ruth said in her opening statement that Crawley had stalked Stith in the weeks before she was killed on Aug. 3, 2018, prompting her to call Philadelphia police. He was apparently incensed, Ruth said, by a curt text message Stith had sent telling him, “It’s over.”
“He was going to kill Maya however he could,” Ruth told jurors, referring to Stith by her nickname. “Because if he couldn’t have her, no one could.”
Crawley’s attorney, Carrie Allman, rejected the notion that he intentionally killed Stith. She said the couple’s tortured relationship pushed him to the brink.
“This is not first-degree murder,” Allman said. “This is rage, this is someone who’s been set off, whose actions are completely out of control.”
Hours before the attack on Stith, Crawley tried to buy a gun, telling the clerk at Delia’s Gun Shop in the Wissinoming section of Philadelphia that he was legally eligible to purchase it, Ruth said. He was denied when a background check revealed he had lied: A permanent restraining order had been filed against him by a woman in Florida.
Undaunted, Crawley armed himself with two knives and a hammer and drove to Vector Security, where Stith worked as a dispatcher.
It wasn’t the first time he had targeted Stith: In April 2018, Crawley choked and beat her inside a hotel room in Montour County, Pa., court documents show. He pleaded guilty to simple assault in that case two weeks before Stith’s murder.
That day, as Stith took her break at 2:13 a.m., Crawley attacked her in her Toyota coupe, smashing the window with a hammer and following her after she escaped through the passenger-side door. Surveillance footage from Vector played in court showed Crawley stabbing his ex-girlfriend multiple times, with enough force to snap the blade off one of the knives.
One of Stith’s coworkers, Nadirah Muhammad, testified Tuesday that she ran out to help Stith after watching the attack through the surveillance cameras. Stith told her, she said, that she knew the person who had stabbed her. Moments later, as Muhammad was on the phone with an emergency dispatcher, she saw a Chevrolet Avalanche come barreling toward the prone Stith.
Muhammad recognized the vehicle: She had seen it drop off and pick up Stith months ago, when she first started working at Vector, she said. The 7,000-pound truck ran Stith over and circled the building to hit her again multiple times.
Afterward, Crawley sped onto the nearby Pennsylvania Turnpike and drove westward for hours. Investigators caught up to him about 80 miles east of Pittsburgh. Cornered, Crawley attempted to kill himself by setting himself on fire with gasoline, but state police were able to pull him from the vehicle, according to investigators.
He spent days in intensive care after his arrest, with severe burns on 30% of his body. During questioning at a hospital in Pittsburgh, Crawley said he didn’t remember stabbing or running over Stith, according to court documents.