Denita Smith

Denita Smith

June 01, 2021

"Envy is a gun with a faulty breech-lock which flares back and burns the gunner."

-Austin O'Malley

It was the 4th of January 2007. A Thursday. Twenty five year old Denita Smith was due at college that day. She lived on campus at the Campus Crossings Apartments in Durham, North Carolina, United States. Denita had spent six years in college and was working towards her Masters at North Carolina Central University. She was ambitious and had great plans for her future. She excelled in journalism and photography and had earned a fellowship with the New York Times. 

Her personal life seemed great too. Just a couple of months earlier, her boyfriend, Jermeir Stroud, proposed to her and she said yes. They met in college and dated for six years. After they graduated, Denita stayed in Durham to pursue further studies and Jermeir moved to Greensboro to become a police officer but while he was away, they maintained their relationship.

That morning, the morning of the 4th of January, Corey Smith, a Campus Crossings resident who lived in the same block as Denita, left his apartment at 10am to head to work. He saw a number of personal belongings scattered down the staircase and at the end of the staircase, he saw a woman. He believed that she fell down the stairs due to the position she was lying in. Corey observed that the woman was not breathing so he called 911 and checked her ID so that he could tell the dispatcher who she was. The woman was Denita Smith.

When police arrived at the scene, they confirmed that Denita was dead. She had suffered a gunshot wound to the head. When police were at the scene, they were informed of a call that had been made from the same campus after 8 am that same morning. 

At 8.10am,Michael Hedgepeth, the maintenance director for the Campus Crossings Apartments in Durham, heard a shot fired. He saw a woman running from the back to the front of the 1100 building of the complex. He approached her to see how she was. She had her hands in front of her mouth and was shaking and crying. He asked her if she heard the shot and she said she had. She told him she was afraid of guns. Michael called 911 but even though police arrived at the scene, they didn't file a report as they could not locate where the shot had come from and the woman Michael had spoken to had already left. He described the woman as a tall black woman, around 5ft 10in, with a ponytail and she was driving a burgundy SUV. 

The officers who responded to the 911 call in relation to Denita's body believed the two incidents must be connected. They informed Jermeir and he spent the day with his family and with Denita's family.

Denita Smith

Denita Smith

Police asked Jermeir where he was that morning. He told them he was asleep in bed as he had worked the previous night. When he discovered they were looking for a woman driving a burgundy SUV, he told police that he knew a woman who drove such a vehicle. And that woman was single mother of two Shannon Crawley.

Denita did not know who Shannon was and had never even met her before. Shannon knew who Denita and Jermeir were though. Shannon worked as a 911 dispatcher in Greensboro and it was through her job that she met Jermeir. When they met, Jermeir was in a relationship with Denita but Shannon wasn't aware of that, and they began an affair. Jermeir admitted the affair to police but said that it ended around a year before Denita was shot.

Police asked Jermeir if there would be any reason why Shannon would want Denita dead and he told them that Shannon would not leave him alone after he ended the relationship. She joined his same Church and moved into a house in his neighborhood. 

Police spoke to Shannon. She told them she never met Denita and maybe only saw her picture once or twice before and saw her at Church once two weeks prior to Denita's death. When asked if she owned a gun, Shannon told police that she didn't. She said she was at home the morning of the 4th of January as her child was sick and she went into work later that day.

Police tested Shannon's SUV and found gun shot residue on the steering wheel. Police were approached by Shannon's coworker. He told police that he sold Shannon a gun. 

Shannon was arrested and charged with first degree murder. 

Shannon Crawley

Shannon Crawley

It was the Prosecution's case that Shannon was obsessed with Jermeir and stalked Denita in a jealous rage. Denita had what she wanted;Jermeir.

The Court heard testimony from Michael Hedgepeth. He testified that he saw a woman, who the Prosecution say was Shannon, that morning. He told the Court that the route she was taking that morning was an unusual one as there was a more convenient exit to the parking lot.

Dr. Cynthia Gardner, a forensic pathologist, testified on behalf of the Prosecution. She testified that Denita was killed by a distant range gunshot wound to the head. The Court heard that during the Autopsy, Dr. Gardner recovered a bullet from Denita's body.

Agent Scott Jones, a forensic firearms analyst at the State Bureau of Investigation, testified that the bullet most likely came from a revolver and that its caliber was in the .38 family. There were eight possible firearms which could have fired the shot, including a Taurus. The Court heard that Shannon, despite initially claiming she never owned a gun,owned a gun. The Jury heard from her coworker, Ronald Simpson, who told the Court that he sold Shannon a .38 Taurus Special revolver in October 2006.

The Court heard that when police asked Shannon if she owned a gun, she said no. But when she discovered she had been caught out in that lie, she said that she had disposed of the gun shortly after receiving it. She claimed that she threw the gun in one dumpster and the ammunition in another dumpster.

The Court heard that Jermeir owned two weapons, a .40 caliber Sig Sauer and a .40 caliber Glock 23 model pistol. Agent Jones testified that a .40 caliber weapon is not designed to fire a .38 caliber bullet.

Jermeir Stroud

Jermeir Stroud

The Court heard testimony from Michael Gurdziel, a forensic chemist at the SBI, who confirmed that gun residue was found on the steering wheel of Shannon's SUV.

The Prosecution presented evidence as part of their case in relation to cell phone records. 

The State called Ryan Harger, a custodian of records for Sprint/Nextel, a telecommunications company which transmitted electronically recorded cell phone records to the Durham Police Department during its investigation. The State had Ryan examine the computer records for Jermeir's and Shannon's cell phones for the time period in which Denita was shot. 

The Jury heard that the day before and the day Denita was shot, Shannon's cell phone was making cell phone calls from Durham near the Campus Crossing Apartments. All of the calls from the same period from Jermier's cell phone were relayed through towers located around Greensboro. 

The Prosecution presented evidence to the Jury of an allegation Shannon made against Jermeir to show a vindictive pattern. It was an allegation in relation to rape that the Defense did not want the Jury to hear about. 

After Denita's death, while Shannon was out on bond, on the 20th of June 2008 , she told police that Jermeir raped her. She said that he came to her house in Charlotte and raped her between 2.30am and 5.30am that morning. She told police that he cut her clothes off with a knife and held the knife to her throat. The Court heard that Shannon told police that Jermeir cut her thigh, penetrated her vagina with the knife, and ejaculated. She claimed that she needed stitches as she had been penetrated by the knife. Pamela Zinkann, a Detective in the sexual assault unit of the Charlotte/Mecklenburg Police Department, testified that based on the alleged time of the rape and Jermeir's cell phone records, he would have had to travel from Charlotte to Greensboro for work at approximately 120 miles per hour without stopping for red lights to have committed the rape.

The Court heard that a rape kit was carried out and it was negative for semen. 

While there were lacerations to Shannon's neck and thigh, as well as abrasions to the outer labia, there were no injuries that required stitches and no injuries to the vaginal canal and a nurse and a physician's assistant testified to that fact.

The Court heard that Shannon told Detective Zinkann on the 21st of June 2008 that the police should look for the knife in Jermeir's trash can at his house. A couple of days later, Jermeir put trash in his trash can for the first time since the alleged rape and found a knife at the bottom. There was nothing else in the trash can. He called police and told them about the knife.

The Court heard testimony from Brandon Inscore, one of Jermeir's neighbors. He testified that on the 19th of June 2008, he heard a thump and saw a vehicle drive away from Jermeir’s trash can. Another neighbor, Jessica Hopkins, said that she saw somebody throw something into Jermeir’s trash can on the 19th of June 2008 and then drive away. 

The Prosecution, before they closed their case, played tapes for the Jury. They obtained audio tapes when they sought discovery from the Defense. They were Defense tapes but the Defense did not intend to use them at Trial but the Prosecution wanted the Jury to hear them. Shannon had claimed they were secret audio recordings between her and Jermeir and that Jermeir confessed to the murder on the tapes. The Prosecution wanted the Jury to hear the tapes to show them how different the male voice on the tape was to Jermeir’s voice and they argued that the male on the tape was not Jermeir. In one recording, a man acknowledged in a whisper that he had killed Denita but couldn't go to prison for it. It was the Prosecution's case that the man heard on the tapes was not Jermeir. The reason they wanted the Jury to hear the tapes was the same reason that they wanted them to hear about the rape allegations that Shannon made. They argued that it showed a pattern of lies and vindictiveness against Jermeir, all of which were to try to frame Jermeir.

It was the Defense's case that Shannon was innocent and did not even know Denita. It was their case that Jermeir stalked Shannon and that he was the one who shot Denita. Shannon testified on her own behalf and told the Court that she was afraid of Jermeir.
 
Shannon told the Court that the day before Denita was shot, the 3rd of January, she returned home to find Jermeir inside her bedroom. She said that he indicated he had a weapon and told her to be quiet. Shannon told the Court that he drove her to Durham and then back to Greensboro. She said the same thing happened the morning that Denita was shot. He drove her SUV and left the SUV for several minutes when they got to the campus. Shannon testified that she got out of the SUV because she heard noises. She told the Court that she heard a brief argument followed by a gunshot. At that stage she was about three or four feet in front of the vehicle when she heard the gunshot. According to Shannon, Jermeir shot Denita. 
 
According to Shannon’s testimony, Jermeir ran back to the SUV and got into the driver's seat. Shannon told the Court that she tried to get in the passenger seat behind the driver, but the back seat was locked, so Jermeir jumped into the back from the driver's seat, and she got into the driver's seat. Shannon said it was at that point that she saw Michael Hedgepeth. Shannon told the Court Michael didn't see Jermeir as he was crouched in the back of the vehicle. She said she did as she was told by Jermeir as he had threatened to harm her children.
 
The Defense urged the Jury to find Shannon not guilty but the Prosecution asked the Jury to consider that if something sounded too good to be true, then it probably was. Shannon had an explanation for everything. She had given an account as to why her phone pinged off towers near Denita's apartment through her account that Jermeir forced her to drive to Durham in the SUV. She gave an explanation as to why gun shot residue was on the steering wheel of her SUV when she described Jermeir initially jumping into the driver's seat after the shot was fired. She even gave an account of why Michael saw only her that morning and not Jermeir. She also obtained a "confession" on tape. But the Prosecution told the Jury to look at the facts, not her story. And that's what they did. Jurors deliberated for about seven hours over two days and they did not believe Shannon's story. They found her guilty of first degree murder. Shannon was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. 
 

Shannon did not wish to address the Court after the verdict but Denita's mother , Sharon Smith, did and said:

"Someday, I may forgive you, but I don't right now. I hope you rot in hell."

Denita's father, Calvin Smith also spoke after the verdict:

"I was thankful to God for the guilty verdict because I was glad that Denita didn't get murdered twice. In my opinion, the evidence spoke for itself. It couldn't have been no other verdict but a guilty verdict."

But while Denita’s parents were clear that the verdict was the correct one, Shannon's parents were not convinced and they believe their daughter is innocent. Her mother, Anne Crawley, said after the Trial:

"Now, it's my daughter who is the perfect victim. The perfect victim for someone like Jermeir Stroud has now been convicted of a murder that he committed."

Her father, Keith Crawley, was in agreement:

"If it is the last thing I ever do, I will prove that he is the one that actually committed that crime."

Shannon’s parents believe that Jermeir is the person responsible for Denita’s death. The Judge in the case did not question the verdict in relation to Shannon but he did not believe Jermeir was without blame either and when he was sentencing Shannon he said:

"Jermeir Stroud caused a perfect storm to happen and then walked away from it, and that was unfortunate for everyone in this case." 



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