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Defense rests in Crenshaw murder case

The number of defense witnesses for murder suspect Justin W. Crenshaw equaled the number of people his attorney said he killed: two.

On Wednesday, deputy prosecutor Jack Driscoll rested his case and defense attorney Chris Bugbee began and ended his defense of the 22-year-old Crenshaw, who is charged with the slaying of Tanner E. Pehl, 20, and Sarah A. Clark, 18, on Feb. 28, 2008.

Bugbee said he had dozens of witnesses but chose to only call Crenshaw’s lifelong friend and a psychiatrist who testified that Crenshaw may suffer from a condition that could explain his erratic behavior after drinking alcohol.

Michael Spadafino, 24, said he’s known Crenshaw since they were kids in Costa Mesa, Calif.

“We basically spent every day together … chasing ducks, jumping off buildings, basically all kinds of kid things,” Spadafino said.

Eventually the families moved apart, but Crenshaw lived with Spadafino for a time when he was teenager. He did “great” until Spadafino left Crenshaw at party with several other teenagers who were drinking. Spadafino returned to find about 10 friends trying to fight Crenshaw.

“It kind of escalated out of control,” said Spadafino, who eventually got Crenshaw into his vehicle. “He was going back and forth from angry to emotional. It was erratic. He was yelling one inch from my face as I was driving. It was something I had never seen before.”

Later, Bugbee called Dr. Jerry Larsen, a psychiatrist who examined Crenshaw and said he could suffer from a disorder known as pathological intoxication, or alcohol idiosyncratic intoxication. People who suffer from that disorder, he said, often behave bizzarely and violently, and can have memory loss, after consuming small amounts of alcohol.

Larsen read an August 2004 report about an incident when Crenshaw stabbed a friend in the upper shoulder after the friend refused to go buy methamphetamines from a dealer.

“He stabbed a friend … but can’t remember any reason for acting that way,” Larsen testified.

He described another incident at a casino where Crenshaw was beating his own head with a rock and then put a knife to his throat and threatened to kill himself while claiming that his girlfriend had broken up with him. A friend later told authorities that Crenshaw was mistaken – that the girlfriend had not ended the relationship.

“He couldn’t remember it and had to be told about it later,” Larsen said. “He may suffer from pathological intoxication. Thinking becomes confused. Your ability to act on choice becomes impaired.”

During his interview, Crenshaw told Larsen he remembered seeing Pehl and Clark on a couch. He remembers pain in his hand and looking down and seeing blood. “He doesn’t remember starting the fire, but he remembers smelling smoke,” Larsen said.

But Driscoll pointed out that Larsen used the word “may” a lot. “Is it also possible that he does not suffer from pathological intoxication?” Larsen said yes.

Driscoll pointed out that in the 2004 stabbing, Crenshaw stole the friend’s car and changed clothes before his interview with police. In the 2008 double slaying, he stole a car and changed clothes – which were recovered two months later – before he spoke with police.

“Did you factor in the similarities in these two cases?” Driscoll asked. Larsen replied: “I testified, he ‘may’ suffer from pathological intoxication.”

Asked if Crenshaw could take advantage of the diagnosis as an excuse for bad behavior, Larsen said he “could have.”

Driscoll asked whether placing a blanket over Tanner Pehl and stabbing him four times with a sword until the blade became embedded in his spine showed intent. Larsen conceded that it did.

“So in this case, was it possible for Mr. Crenshaw to have the ability to form intent or premeditation?” Driscoll asked. Larsen said, “It’s possible. I can’t make that firm diagnosis.”

But Bugbee quickly asked Larsen if that behavior also indicated “delusions caused by pathological intoxication.”

“I think this is so bizarre … that it suggests some abnormal thinking, yes,” Larsen replied.

Driscoll said he intends to call one rebuttal witness today. Closing arguments are expected Monday.