By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – At the request of prosecutors and DeWayne Crenshaw’s family, Judge Andrew Howorth on Friday sentenced Franklin Fitzpatrick to life in prison without parole instead of death.
Fitzpatrick, 28, of Pontotoc, was convicted Thursday of capital murder in the Dec. 3, 2010, death of Crenshaw, a Tippah County deputy sheriff. Crenshaw and Deputy Rodney Callahan were trying to restrain Fitzpatrick during a drug-induced rage, and testimony showed Fitzpatrick grabbed Callahan’s pistol and shot Crenshaw, 62, twice.
As part of the sentencing agreement, Fitzpatrick stood before the court and apologized to friends and relatives of his victim.
“I don’t know what happened that night,” he said, choking on sobs. “But I always discussed that if the jury found me guilty, I would take responsibility. I’m sorry. In my right mind, I would never have done this.”
Fitzpatrick had two prior felonies and was sentenced as a habitual offender, reinforcing the life-without-parole sentence.
Three of Crenshaw’s survivors also addressed the court, reminding those present that Fitzpatrick’s action had cost the life of an “honest, loving, protective” community servant and family patriarch.
“He went out there … to help Mr. Fitzpatrick … to make sure that he was OK. That decision … cost him his life,” said Tami Hayes, Crenshaw’s elder daughter.
To Fitzpatrick she said, “I know that this is hard on you and your family. I pray for you every day.”
Sandy Crenshaw recalled camping trips and country drives and long talks with her father.
“All the memories we have of our dad are clouded by … his murder,” she said. “Our family will be forever broken.”
She described depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other debilitating results of her family’s trauma but endorsed the sentence “so my family and his family can begin to heal.”
Jane Crenshaw introduced herself painfully, bluntly.
“I am the widow,” she said. “It has been 890 days since the death of my husband.”
She told of a husband with two tours of duty in Vietnam, two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star, of homesteading in Alaska during their early married years. She recalled his graduating near the top of his police academy class, competing with classmates half his age.
Jane Crenshaw told of taking a pay cut to lessen her job stress after her husband’s death, of not sleeping, of not fitting in her community as she had before.
“People look at you differently and whisper behind your back. People think you should be over it now, and they are so very wrong,” she said. “To a victim of violent crime, there is no healing – only learning how to cope, day by day.”
Since the trial began Tuesday, the black Fitzpatrick family had sat on the left side of the courtroom, behind the defense table, while the white Crenshaws were behind the prosecution table on the right.
After Thursday night’s verdict and again after Friday morning’s sentencing, the divide disappeared. In the downstairs lobby of the Lafayette County Courthouse, friends and relatives of both men most involved in the tragedy shared hugs, prayers and tearful stories of their common grief.
Noting a mutual concern that the two families had nurtured since their first interactions, one unnamed member of the Fitzpatrick family said, “We didn’t just get this today. This has been in us all along.”