Judge Tari Eitzen requested the break after more than 2 1/2 hours of emotional testimony from grieving family and friends of Sarah A. Clark, 18, and Tanner E. Pehl, 20, who Crenshaw, now 22, stabbed to death on Feb. 28, 2008. A few more people are expected to speak, and Crenshaw will have a chance to address the court.
State law allows only two punishments for aggravated first-degree murder, of which Crenshaw was convicted of July 27: The death penalty or life in prison without parole. Prosecutors already decided not to seek the death penalty.
The packed courtroom this morning included at least four jurors from the two-week trial. Testimony came from Pehl and Clark’s parents, their siblings, other relatives and close friends, including Clark’s piano teacher of five years.
Tanner’s aunt described how surreal it is to hear Tanner’s grandmother say that visiting his grave “is part of her routine.”
She said “she visits Tanner’s grave every couple of days because that’s what grandmas should do.”
“No,” Tanner’s aunt said. “That’s not what grandmas should do.”
Tanner’s aunt ended with a message for Crenshaw, who sat next to his lawyer, Chris Bugbee, wearing a blue jail jumper and sporting newly buzzed hair and scruffy facial hair.
“Justin you’ve taken two precious lives and I hope you suffer the rest of your life,” she said. “I hope you have nightmares the rest of your pathetic life…I do not believe you deserve the air you breathe….Long after the world has turned its back on you, Tanner and Sarah’s memory will live on.”
Sarah’s sister, Emily Gant, said Crenshaw not only murdered Sarah and Tanner, “he also murdered what would have been our lives.” She cited what her mother, Teesha Clark, said after the July 27 verdict: “The murders gave us a life sentence, and he deserves no less.”
Gant said Crenshaw “shows no remorse” and displays an “arrogant smile for the friends and families of Sarah Clark and Tanner Pehl.” Teesha Clark said her life has become consumed with thoughts of her daughter’s murder, and irrational fear that her five other children may be hurt.
Losing her child to such horrific violence “has become my living nightmare.”
Tanner’s brother-in-law, a deputy with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office, said he was working as a police officer in Medical Lake when he learned of a fire at the Pehl home on TV. Soon, he and his wife learned of Tanner’s death, and he saw the crime scene. The bloody scene was “just like out of a horror film.”
“It brings me peace that you will be in there forever, never having the opportunity to crush two families again,” he said.
Sarah’s father, Steve Clark, described harrowing grief. “It’s agonizing, debilitating, incomprehensible grief…It makes you dizzy,” he said. “You can never understand it unless you experience it yourself.”
“I try not to think about her pain from the stab wounds; her screaming,” Clark said. “How cold someone do that to another person?”
A close friend of Sarah’s told Eitzen that she spoke with Sarah about Crenshaw a few days before the murder.
“She told me Justin was receiving a new start in the midst of her world, and she was eager to give that to him. She invested her heart into helping him start over,” she said. “…Evil now has a face, and he is unremorseful.”
Tanner’s sister, Katie Pehl (pictured left with brothers Matt and Cameron after the verdict last week,) recalled a conversation Tanner told her he’d had with Crenshaw. Tanner had said he wanted to donate his organs if he died. Crenshaw apparently felt differently.
“Not me,” Katie Pehl recalled Crenshaw saying. “When I die, I’m taking all my s**t with me.”
Katie Pehl told Crenshaw she hopes to someday forgive him.
“That is something I will try for the rest of my life,” Pehl said. “I know that’s what Tanner would want me to do.”