A man indicted for 1st degree murder in the fatal stabbing of his girlfriend in DeKalb County almost three years ago was sentenced Wednesday to 20 years in the Tennessee Department of Correction but the family of the victim is not happy with the outcome and feels betrayed by District Attorney General Bryant Dunaway for not pursuing harsher punishment.
44 year old Anthony (Tony) Tyrone Crews appeared before Judge Gary McKenzie in Putnam County Criminal Court at Cookeville where he entered a plea under a negotiated settlement to 2nd degree murder in the death of 28 year old Ashley Bain. As a range 1 offender, Crews will serve his 20 year sentence at 100% but he could earn good time credit of up to 15% off his sentence, although that is not a guarantee. After being behind bars since his arrest on February 5, 2015, Crews will be given jail credit for that time of two years and ten months. Crews has been incarcerated at the Putnam County Jail.
WJLE was in the courtroom for the hearing and spoke with the D.A and a member of the Bain family afterward.
Prior to sentencing, Judge McKenzie permitted members of Bain’s family to speak in objection to the plea deal between Crews and prosecutors. The victim’s brother Cleveland Derrick Bain, who is an attorney, and Ashley’s father Cleveland Bain, both addressed the court saying that a 20 year sentence was unjust and should be rejected by the judge.
“Please don’t let this happen. Twenty years is not right. Ashley and her children deserve better,” said Derrick Bain.
Other members of the victim’s family were also present in the courtroom including her mother, but they did not address the court.
Had Crews gone to trial and been convicted as indicted for "premeditated" 1st degree murder, he could have faced a sentence of life in prison either with or without the possibility of parole. In a 2nd degree murder, one must have "knowingly" killed another. "Premeditation" is not an element of that crime. The punishment for a range 1 offender for 2nd degree murder, such as Crews is 15 to 25 years.
Both District Attorney General Dunaway and Crew’s attorney, District Public Defender Craig Fickling said that a 1st degree murder conviction by a jury in this case was less likely than 2nd degree murder and the plea deal offered was in line with the range of punishment Crews may have received had he gone to trial and been convicted of 2nd degree murder. They went on to say that a jury might even have convicted Crews of the lesser offense of involuntary manslaughter which carries a range of punishment of 3 to 6 years at 30%.
In defending his position, Dunaway said “I believe this is a legally responsible result to this case”.
“I feel for the Bain family. I can’t imagine the pain they feel losing a family member. I understand their frustration, their anguish. It’s always difficult conversations that I have with victim’s families in homicide cases but on a legal basis I do strongly believe that a 2nd degree murder conviction with a 20 year sentence is legally reasonable and just and that is where my conscience landed in this situation,” said Dunaway.
In accepting the plea agreement, Judge McKenzie acknowledged that it was a difficult decision and said his heart goes out to the victim’s family, but that as judge “my job is not to be prosecutor but to be impartial as all the facts are presented. If there is a legal basis for the plea then that is the test here. I understand there are different views but I have to make a decision today. I will accept the plea agreement,” said Judge McKenzie
In addressing Crews prior to sentencing, Judge McKenzie said “you have taken a life, a sister, mother, and friend to many people. Everything she ever would be or was you put an end to it,” he said.
The murder trial had been set for February 13, 2018 with pre-trial motions to have been heard December 13.
The crime was committed on the afternoon of Thursday, February 5, 2015.
Bain’s body was found lying on the floor of a bedroom at the home she and Crews shared at 3870 Cookeville Highway, Smithville.
Bain was stabbed numerous times about the upper body. A bloody knife, believed to have been the murder weapon, was found in the home.
According to Sheriff Patrick Ray at the time, Crews called 911 at 2:33 p.m. on February 5, 2015 to report that he had discovered Bain's body when he entered the residence. Sheriff Ray and members of the DeKalb County Sheriff's Department were alerted and quickly arrived on the scene. The TBI and District Attorney General's Office also joined the investigation. Sheriff Ray said authorities determined that Crews had committed the crime and made up the story about finding the body.
Dunaway told WJLE after the hearing that prosecutors believe Crews became upset with Bain over contact with a prior boyfriend and that he got drunk and confronted her about it which resulted in an argument and the murder.
“The victim in this case (Bain) and Anthony Crews (who was married to another woman at the time) were in a relationship. They (Bain and Crews) were not married. The victim had contact and dealings with a prior boyfriend close in time to this event. We believe Mr. Crews got intoxicated and they got to arguing about this prior boyfriend and then the murder happened. We have Mr. Crews on video at 1 p.m. on February 5, 2015 buying alcohol at a local convenience store. He appeared to be acting normal at that time. Just an hour and a half later we have him making a 911 call. He appeared obviously intoxicated on that 911 call and he appeared to be intoxicated when law enforcement officers arrived at the scene. We found those empty alcoholic beverage containers that he had purchased an hour and a half earlier in the home. We feel confident he was intoxicated and based upon all the circumstances we feel like it was a domestic argument that went really badly and unfortunately Ashley Bain lost her life,” said Dunaway.
Upset over the plea deal, Derrick Bain told WJLE after the hearing that the Bain family feels that the District Attorney misled them into thinking he would prosecute this brutal killing to the fullest extent of the law.
“Over what will be three years in February the District Attorney’s Office had been steadfast in their position that they were going to prosecute this case fervently. It wasn’t until last week that they told us (members of the family) they were going to do a plea agreement. The plea agreement they told us then was different than the plea agreement today (Wednesday). We as a family believe that it is unjust and its wrong. We don’t believe that justice was served today,” said Bain.
“Ashley keeps being re-victimized. She was originally a victim of this horrible crime. She and her children are being re-victimized today by this plea agreement. Its unbelievable to think that you could stab somebody multiple times in the middle of the afternoon and possibly be out of jail in 17 years. Not only is it a concern for us and our family, its a concern for other families in this area. What peace and solace do they have when their elected officials, the district attorney and the judges are allowing these types of plea bargains in these types of cases. That is one of our biggest concerns,” Bain continued.
“This is what I want people to know. It is the district attorney’s job to go into the courtroom and take the hard cases, the brutal cases and try them. They are not easy. They are not pleasant but its their job. When he signed up for this job, he took an oath that he was going to go in there and pursue these cases and pursue justice but what he did was plea a guy out who stabbed somebody multiple times. I don’t think that he did his job,” said Bain.
For the first time, the Bain family learned Wednesday during the hearing that while Crews had never confessed to investigators, he had told his wife on the phone after killing Bain that he had done it because “she crossed me”.
“He did not confess to the murder in anyway,” D.A. Dunaway told WJLE. “What that reference amounts to is that while Crews was in a relationship with Bain he was still married at the time of this murder to a woman who lived outside of Smithville. Crews’ wife would have testified that on the night of the murder that Crews made a phone call to her letting her know that he was being charged with murder. She would have testified that she thought he was just kidding. When she asked him why he did it he made the statement “because she crossed me”. That can be interpreted in a lot of ways. But that is the only thing that comes close to a confession. Crews never confessed to killing Ashley Bain,” said Dunaway.
Although Crews was under indictment for 1st degree murder in the death of Bain, he was originally charged with 2nd degree murder. Proving 1st degree murder in this case, Dunaway said would have been a legal challenge.
“That’s what we felt like that facts of the case supported at that time (2nd degree murder). Later when we presented the case to the grand jury it was indicted as a 1st degree murder. But as we continued on evaluating the proof, going through it with a fine tooth comb we (prosecutors and myself) came to the conclusion that proving the element of premeditation in this case was going to be quite a large hurdle. To convict somebody of 1st degree murder in this case we would have to prove the element of premeditation and in a nutshell premeditation means that the murder was planned ahead of time. When we looked at all of the proof and all of the witnesses and physical evidence that we had available to us, premeditation was very thin. Then we have to begin an analysis of if we take this to trial, what is a jury likely to convict Anthony Crews of? I believed after looking at all the evidence that we had was that the best scenario was that a jury would convict him of 2nd degree murder. That is what happened today. Anthony Crews stood before the court and declared that he was guilty of the 2nd degree murder of Ashley Bain and he agreed to accept a 20 year prison sentence,” said Dunaway.
“With a 2nd degree murder conviction, the only possible punishment that could be imposed on Mr. Crews would be a range of 15 to 25 years. The sentence that he accepted today was right in the middle of that range. Had a jury convicted him of 2nd degree murder at trial, then in that process the judge would have had to determine what amount of sentence he would have served between that range of 15 to 25 years. In that scenario its possible the judge would have sentenced him to 15 years. Its possible it would have been 25 years. There is really no way to know until that type of hearing is held,” Dunaway continued.
“Another thing which came into consideration was that based upon the facts and proof in this case a jury could have come back with a conviction of involuntary manslaughter which is a lesser offense. Had he been convicted of that he would have walked out of the courtroom today or very shortly after because he has been in custody over two and a half years. A sentence for involuntary manslaughter would have been served at 30% of whatever the sentence was so that was a result we couldn’t accept and didn’t think would be just,” he said.
In addition to proving premeditation, Dunaway said prosecutors had other legal hurdles to overcome in this case. For example Two days after the murder someone set fire to Crews’ Chevy Tahoe which was parked at the scene of the crime, which might have potentially destroyed evidence and affected the case. “The defense had filed a motion claiming that the case should be dismissed because the Tahoe likely had some evidentiary value to it and had been destroyed. That was a legal hurdle that had we proceeded to trial, we would have had to argue that legal issue before the court and had the state lost that issue, the case would have been dismissed and Crews would have walked out of the courtroom. Had we won that motion then we could have proceeded to trial. There were several moving parts involved in this case,” he said.