Tuesday, August 5, 2003

Man found competent for trial in '74 death



By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

HAMILTON - After two years of legal wrangling, James Elmo Craft has been found competent to stand trial for the 1974 killing of a Springdale teen.

Butler County Common Pleas Judge Patricia Oney on Monday ruled Craft was competent to stand trial after defense lawyers Mark Conese and Michael Shanks agreed with a mental-health professional's conclusion that Craft understands the proceedings against him and is capable of assisting in his own defense.

But Conese and Shanks are still asking several questions, including:

• Was Craft, who has undergone four decades of mental health treatment, sane at the time of the crime?

• How can his mental state at the time be established now, 29 years later?

• Are authorities relying too heavily on statements from Craft to implicate himself?

Oney said she will decide whether the case must be thrown out only after hearing testimony at trial, which she set for Dec. 9.

Shanks said he thinks prosecutors have no physical evidence tying his client to the death of Cynthia Delores Beuerlein. The 15-year-old Springdale girl's body was found in a ditch at Rialto and Beckett Roads, in what is now West Chester Township, on June 13, 1974. She had been beaten.

Craft is already serving up to 25 years in prison for the 1988 voluntary manslaughter of his wife, Ruth Craft, a Fairfield West Elementary School teacher who was shot to death.

In 2001, about 18 months after the Butler County Sheriff's Office reopened the case, he was arrested and charged with aggravated murder in Beuerlein's slaying.

Shanks said he thinks that statements Craft made to investigators and jailhouse snitches form the foundation of the prosecution's case - and, if so, that's cause for concern.

Assistant Prosecutor Dan Eichel declined to respond to Shanks' comments. But he did say the prosecution's case was based upon "witness testimony."

If convicted in Beuerlein's death, Craft could receive a life sentence with parole eligibility in about 16 years.

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E-mail jmorse@enquirer.com




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