Missouri Supreme Court Case Number: SC82205
Case Facts: Joan Crotts, a widow in her sixties, lived alone next door to a boardinghouse in St. Louis County. In the summer of 1996, defendant moved into the boardinghouse. During defendant’s short stay at the residence, he frequently harassed Mrs. Crotts and instigated a number of verbal confrontations with her. Typically, the incidents only involved vulgar insults by the defendant, directed toward Mrs. Crotts. Eventually, defendant’s behavior intensified for the worse.
One day in August, defendant and several friends assembled and began drinking in the back yard of the boardinghouse. They began throwing chicken bones to Mrs. Crotts’ dogs and proceeded to toss beer cans over the fence into her yard. Mrs. Crotts, upset by the activity, came out to complain and began yelling at the defendant and his friends, telling them to stop and quit harassing her. In response, defendant picked up a sledgehammer, smashed a rock with it, and threatened Mrs. Crotts, saying “this is your head…if you keep messing with me.” Following some harsh words from defendant and his companions, the episode ended without further incident.
Later that day, Mrs. Crotts left her house in order to attend a barbecue down the street. Apparently, she crossed through the front yard of the boardinghouse, and defendant walked down the driveway and began chastising Mrs. Crotts for walking across the lawn. He threatened her by saying, “Get your fat ass back in the house, bitch. I’ve got one coming for you.” At that point, Mrs. Crotts’ daughter, accompanied by an acquaintance, approached them and told defendant to leave her mother alone.
Nothing more happened until that evening, when defendant was evicted from the boardinghouse. When Mrs. Crotts stepped out on her front porch to see what all the commotion was about, defendant yelled at her, “I’m going to get you for this, bitch.” According to Mrs. Crotts’ daughter, defendant blamed Mrs. Crotts for his eviction.
Approximately a year and a half later, in the early morning hours of March 1, 1998, Mrs. Crotts let her dogs outside. The dogs ran through an open gate in her backyard, making her suspect someone had been in the yard during the night. She investigated and found that, in addition to the open gate, a step on her back porch was out of place and that papers she kept in her new car were lying on the ground. Fearing that someone had been on her property and had tampered with her car, Mrs. Crotts contacted the police. When a police officer arrived, he walked around the house and patrolled the neighborhood in his vehicle, but found nothing amiss. Mrs. Crotts remained awake, talked with her daughter on the phone and prepared to go to church.
Meanwhile, defendant, who originally opened the backyard gate, entered Mrs. Crotts’ house through an unlocked back door, sat on a chair in the basement and smoked a cigarette. Several hours passed. Eventually, defendant, carrying a hammer, climbed the basement stairs and confronted Mrs. Crotts in her kitchen. He grabbed Mrs. Crotts arm and pushed her into the living room. They sat down on the living room couch and began talking. Mrs. Crotts asked whether he wanted money or jewelry. Defendant said “[N]o.” He rose from the couch and forced Mrs. Crotts into an adjacent room. After collecting his thoughts, he pushed her into the rear bedroom. Once inside the bedroom, defendant pushed her over the bed, and they laid down next to one another. Defendant exposed his penis and tried to force her to perform oral sex. Defendant, however, was unable to maintain an erection, and pushed Mrs. Crotts back into the kitchen.
As Mrs. Crotts looked out the back door window, defendant opened the refrigerator. He looked inside and found a two-liter Pepsi bottle. He pulled out the bottle and took a drink. He found some paper and a pen on the kitchen table and wrote “You are next” on the paper. Then, he seized Mrs. Crotts from behind and forced her to the open door leading to the basement stairs. He shoved her down the stairs, and she fell to the concrete basement floor. Mrs. Crotts lay face down on the concrete, unmoving. Defendant began to descend the steps, and picked up a hammer by his boot. After observing Mrs. Crotts for a time, he struck her in the back of the head several times with the hammer. He tossed the hammer toward the back of the basement, exited via the same back door through which he had entered and proceeded to Mrs. Crotts’ backyard. He passed through the same gate he opened before and walked to his new home, no more than one mile away.