Thirteen years after his wife, Diana, was murdered, Robert Algar Jr. still can‚??t get past the brutality and senselessness of the crime.
Diana Algar was just trying to help by giving 15-year-old Kenneth Crawford and his friend, David Hanley, 18, a place to stay for a few nights in July 1999, he said.
They repaid her by smashing her face with a 2-by-4, then shooting her and her friend, Jose Molina, in the head inside a camper at the Paradise Camp Ground in Hollenback Township.
Robert Algar, 53, said he felt a sense of justice knowing Crawford, who was convicted in January 2001 of two counts of first-degree murder and other offenses, would spend the rest of his life in prison.
Now he‚??s hoping justice prevails again as the state Supreme Court hears arguments next week in two cases that determine whether Crawford and hundreds of other ‚??juvenile lifers‚?Ě in Pennsylvania are entitled to new sentencing hearings.
Crawford, now 29, recently filed a court motion that seeks to overturn his sentence based on a June 25 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that declared mandatory life sentences without possibility of parole for juveniles unconstitutional.
Hanley pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and is serving a life sentence. He is not eligible for relief because he was 18 at the time of the murders.
The issue before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which will hear arguments on Sept. 12, is whether the U.S. Supreme Court ruling applies retroactively to defendants, like Crawford, who have exhausted all other appeals.
The state court, hearing appeals in cases out of Northampton and Philadelphia counties, must also decide what remedy is available to the defendants to challenge their sentences.
There‚??s a lot riding on the outcome of the hearing. It‚??s estimated there are 480 juvenile lifers now serving time in Pennsylvania who could be eligible for relief should the defense prevail.
Algar, of Dickson City, said he knew there would be years of appeals in Crawford‚??s case, but never expected they would continue 13 years after the murder.
‚??I had faith in the justice system once,‚?Ě Algar said. ‚??He belongs where he is. If the justice system is working, this will never happen.‚?Ě
Algar said the brutality and cold-blooded nature of the murders convince him Crawford will always be a threat to society.
Evidence at the trial revealed Diana Algar befriended Crawford and Hanley, carnival workers who drifted from state to state, after they flagged her down at a truck stop.
‚??They asked her if she knew of any place they could stay,‚?Ě Robert Algar said. ‚??It was the beginning of the end. It was so senseless. All she wanted to do was to help those kids.‚?Ě
Diana Algar let Crawford and Hanley stay at her camper for a few days. She was exiting a shower building at the campground when one of them smacked her in the face with a board, then ordered her back to the camper.
There, prosecutors said, Crawford and Hanley made a makeshift silencer out of a two-liter soda bottle, which was taped over the barrel of a .22 caliber rifle. They ordered Molina and Algar into a back bedroom and shot them.
‚??She was 4 foot, 10 and weighted 100 pounds, and they ambushed her with a 2-by-4,‚?Ě Algar said. ‚??This wasn‚??t a spur of the moment thing ‚?Ľ It was cold and calculated.‚?Ě
At trial, Crawford blamed Hanley for the murders. He maintained he was sleeping outside the camper when he was awakened by gunshots and saw Hanley holding two rifles.
Crawford is serving his sentence at the State Correctional Institution at Greene in Waynesburg. His motion seeks only a new sentencing hearing. His convictions have previously been upheld by several appellate courts.
Even if Crawford is granted a new hearing, there‚??s no guarantee he won‚??t be resentenced to life.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruling does not forbid a judge from sentencing a juvenile to life. It only precludes a mandatory life sentence, requiring a judge to hold a hearing to consider mitigating factors in the juvenile‚??s life when deciding a sentence.
Algar said he hopes Crawford doesn‚??t get that far, but if he does, Algar vowed he‚??ll be there to oppose a lesser sentence.
‚??I don‚??t know how anybody can do what they did to another human being,‚?Ě he said of Crawford and Hanley. ‚??They‚??re animals.‚?Ě