The defense attorney representing Justin W. Crenshaw eliminated all doubt Monday when he said his client did in fact kill two young adults in February 2008. But, he told jurors in opening arguments, Crenshaw can’t remember what happened.
Defense attorney Chris Bugbee said his 22-year-old client can’t explain why or even how he killed 18-year-old Sarah A. Clark and 20-year-old Tanner E. Pehl on Feb. 28, 2008.
“This is not about who caused their deaths. It is to what level of responsibility he should be held,” Bugbee said. “What was his state of mind when these crimes were committed?”
Crenshaw wore a suit, a lavender shirt and a purple tie to court. During both afternoon recesses, he arrived back in the courtroom smiling as he faced more than 40 of the victims’ family and friends.
As expected, Bugbee said he will bring witnesses claiming that Crenshaw may suffer from alcohol idiosyncratic intoxication, in which persons can exhibit bizarre, sometimes violent behavior after ingesting even small amounts of alcohol.
“Don’t dismiss this condition because you haven’t heard of it,” he told the jury. “The issue is, how did this condition affect his ability to think?”
Jack Driscoll, the chief criminal deputy prosecutor, asked the jury to hold Crenshaw responsible for the heinous crime: Clark’s head was nearly severed and Pehl was found with a broadsword stuck through his chest.
Driscoll told the jury about lists of fingerprints at the crime scene, blood on clothes and other DNA evidence linking Crenshaw to the crime.
“I will ask you to convict Justin Crenshaw with two counts of murder in the first degree with aggravating circumstances,” Driscoll said.
But Bugbee’s defense will make efforts by Driscoll almost moot.
Investigators found dozens of pictures of Pehl’s family members taken off the walls and placed upside down in the home at 512 E. Elm St., which is adjacent to Newport Highway in north Spokane.
“It is in fact bizarre,” Bugbee said of the overturned photos, “which is consistent with the condition I’m talking about. This is a senseless case. There is no way to justify these deaths.”
Crenshaw told detectives that he had been with Pehl and Clark on the night of the incident, but asked to be driven home. He denied the killings but told his aunt that investigators would want his clothes. Those bloody clothes were later discovered in his aunt’s garage, and DNA testing showed the blood came from both Clark and Pehl, Driscoll said in court.
Bugbee said alcohol idiosyncratic intoxication is often associated with amnesia. Crenshaw’s “last memory was sitting on the couch drinking with Tanner Pehl, who was playing the guitar,” Bugbee said. “His next memory is waking up the next morning with pain in his hand. He sees the bodies.”
Bugbee left out any explanation for why the house was intentionally set on fire. Investigators found household cleaners and other flammable liquids piled on the living room floor.
The source of the fire was determined to be from the kitchen, where someone left pizza boxes on top of a stove with three burners activated and an oven set to 450 degrees.
“This is not an insanity defense where we are asking you to acquit Mr. Crenshaw of these crimes,” Bugbee said. “There are other options … that don’t show intent.”