A Howard County judge has sentenced former Laurel Police Chief David Crawford to two consecutive life sentences plus 75 years for setting fires targeting people he believed had slighted him.
A jury in March convicted the 71-year-old Ellicott City man on eight counts of attempted first-degree murder and two counts of arson for setting a string of fires across six counties — from Waldorf to Ellicott City to Frederick — between 2011 and late 2020. Crawford received a life sentence on all eight counts of murder, to be served concurrently as two consecutive sentences.
During the six-day trial, the jury heard testimony that Crawford’s cellphone contained a list of the people whose homes were set ablaze, including former coworkers, neighbors and even his chiropractor. His iPad and home computer also showed searches for the targets’ addresses around the dates of the fires.
Crawford’s defense attorney, Robert Bonsib, pledged to appeal the case. He previously argued his client couldn’t be connected to the fires, and that it couldn’t be proved that Crawford intended to kill anyone.
“Just because everyone is alive doesn’t mean no one is harmed,” said Assistant State’s Attorney Tricia Cecil on Tuesday.
Prior to sentencing, several of Crawford’s victims tearfully recounted the turmoil that the fires brought them and the relief they felt following his March 2021 arrest. Members of the Henderson family, whose home was set ablaze twice in a year, described feeling hunted, and said they have struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder ever since.
Quinn Henderson had undergone two reconstructive surgeries on her leg around the time of the fires, which destroyed her medical rehabilitation equipment. Despite requiring a walker to get around, Henderson, then 16, ran back to the house as it filled with smoke to retrieve the family’s dog, Scooby, from behind a screen door.
Crawford’s actions, she said, caused her to “stop trusting God.”
“That’s another thing Dave took from me — my faith,” she said in a victim impact statement.
Quinn’s parents, Evelyn and Scott Henderson, opted to rebuild their house and took out a second mortgage to supplement costs that weren’t covered by insurance. Less than a year after the fire, their house burned down again, leaving them financially, emotionally and mentally devastated.
Evelyn Henderson recalled how she and her husband slept in shifts with a kitchen knife in reach near the entrance of their rental following the second fire.
“I expect the worst because I know life can change overnight,” she said.
Scott Henderson, a professional artist, said the fires destroyed irreplaceable items, including a lifetime of paintings, sentimental family artifacts, yet-to-be-wrapped Christmas presents for his kids and a collection of donated items for the homeless.
Henderson’s other daughter, Mevie Henderson, who was away at college at the time of the fires, said she was changed “in every way imaginable” by Crawford’s actions. The arsonist’s position as a police chief damaged her trust in law enforcement, she said.
“He took my life as I knew it away from me, and I have been in fight-or-flight mode ever since,” Mevie Henderson said.
Several victims voiced concerns that others close to Crawford might have known about his actions. No other individuals have been formally charged in connection to the fires, but prosecutors said Tuesday that they were willing to bring forward any case supported by the evidence.
Dressed in a maroon prison uniform, Crawford mostly stared ahead during the victim impact statements. He addressed the victims briefly to urge them not to lose their faith in God. Crawford also submitted a 22-page personal statement to the court ahead of sentencing. Judge Richard Bernhardt granted a request to withhold public access to the statement in order to shield minors mentioned in the document.
Bernhardt described arson as a personalized crime and said he weighed two pieces of evidence before imposing the sentence. Crawford’s vanity license plate, which borrowed the name “SURECAN” from a brand of gasoline cannisters, was “extraordinary,” he said. Bernhardt also referred to the way Crawford repeatedly contacted his victims after the fires as “extremely disturbing.”
Howard County prosecutors previously sought eight life sentences for Crawford. The former police chief previously pleaded guilty in March 2022 to one count of first-degree arson brought in Frederick County. He entered an Alford plea, acknowledging there was enough evidence to convict him but maintaining his innocence.
The court credited Crawford for the 846 days he has served since his arrest. Given Crawford’s advanced age, Howard County State’s Attorney Richard Gibson said, Crawford is “not likely to breathe free air again.”
“We feel that’s appropriate,” Gibson said.
Baltimore Banner reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this story.