The mother of a toddler who was burned and killed 18 years ago told a judge Friday that it was a dark day for justice. "Make no mistake," Yvonne Roberts of Clinton told Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Ronald Castleberry, "you are setting a criminal free." Castleberry said he had no choice.
After an emotional hearing, he signed orders that will allow a former Lynnwood man, David A. Crane, 44, to go free after serving less than a third of a 60-year prison term imposed in 1987 for the beating death of 3-year-old Steven Collins in Lynnwood. The child was his nephew.
He's one of 21 second-degree murder defendants in Snohomish County whose convictions may be vacated following two state Supreme Court decisions.
Crane has maintained his innocence and has tried to get a new trial to clear his name, said his Seattle lawyer, Neil Fox.
"Mr. Crane has decided to forgo that possibility in order to bring to a close this very sorry and sad chapter of his family's life," Fox said in a statement.
Outside court, Fox said it's "time for healing, as much as can happen."
On Friday, the judge signed an order vacating the homicide conviction. Then Crane pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of first-degree manslaughter.
Given time off for good behavior and confirmation of that by state prison officials, Crane was to have been allowed to walk out a free man this morning, Fox said.
Mark Roe, chief criminal deputy prosecutor, sat in the audience. Crane is the second person in the county to gain freedom following state Supreme Court decisions in 2002 and 2004 that invalidated about 300 second-degree murder convictions around the state.
Roe said he has heard from attorneys of 13 of those defendants, who also might seek freedom for their clients. Eight no longer are in custody.
The prosecutor, who has been openly critical of the Supreme Court decisions, said he doesn't want to hear that it was a judge in Everett who let Crane go free.
"It's the judges in Olympia that are called justices, clearly in name and not deed. The blame for this needs to be put squarely where it belongs," Roe said.
The high court ruled that prosecutors can't get murder convictions in cases where someone dies during an assault if there was no intention to kill.
Crane's ex-wife, Theresa Crane of Everett, sat with two of her children and David Crane's current girlfriend. She said she's glad her ex-husband will be released so he can have a better relationship with his children.
"I'm just grateful we can end this," Theresa Crane said. "There are no winners here."
Roberts, who addressed Castleberry, said she and her family are devastated by what the judge was about to do. She urged the judge to look at the evidence, and he told her he had.
"This is a child killer," Roberts said. "He's one of the people responsible for looking out for my son."
Crane had been caring for Steven in May 1986 when the child suffered burns from scalding water and a hair drier. He also suffered a severe blow to the head, which killed him.
When Crane was sentenced, then-Judge Daniel Kershner said the boy had been tortured, and he imposed an extraordinarily long 60-year sentence which was later upheld by appellate courts.
The injuries suffered by Steven were obvious "acts of deliberate cruelty," Castleberry said.
He said he was an officer of the court, his personal feelings didn't matter and he was required to follow the law as interpreted by the Supreme Court.
To Roberts, Castleberry said, "You have all my personal sympathies."
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