Former Laurel police chief sentenced to 8 full life terms on arson charges

The former police chief of Laurel, Maryland, will spend the rest of his life behind bars for setting fire to several homes and a car, all of which belonged to people he believed slighted him.

A judge in Howard County sentenced David Crawford, 71, of Ellicott City, to eight life terms in prison plus 75 years for fires set in 2017 and 2018 in the county.

The sentence comes after Crawford was convicted of eight counts of attempted first-degree murder, three counts of first-degree arson and one count of first-degree malicious burning in March.

“What he did was really ugly, and he deserves every second of the sentence that has been imposed upon him,” said Howard County State’s Attorney Richard Gibson.

While the former police department leader is charged with setting 12 fires in several counties, the cases against him in Howard County included three house fires and one car fire between March 2017 and September 2018.

A chiropractor and someone affiliated with a foster care organization were among those targeted by Crawford.

“To boil it down to its core, each of the fires was in response to a perceived relatively minor slight that most people would just ignore, dust off,” Gibson said.

According to Gibson, several victims presented statements to the court about the impact of the events on their lives.

Gibson said one of the most poignant moments was a parent discussing one of the priceless things they lost because of Crawford’s actions.

“One of the victims today in court mentioned losing the blue and white and pink blankets that the babies get in the hospital, the first thing that touches your child. They lost that. There’s no [monetary] value you can attach to that,” he said.

According to Gibson, Crawford, without acknowledging his crimes, made a brief statement to the court and focused his comments on one victim, who said what happened to them made them lose their faith in God. Crawford responded by saying that statement was difficult to hear.

Howard County Circuit Court Judge Richard S. Bernhardt’s decision allowed for some of the life sentences to be served at the same time, so the total prison time amounts to two life sentences plus the years for arson.

“These families have waited several years for justice and we are grateful to play some part in delivering that for them. It is particularly egregious that someone who dedicated their life to law enforcement and was the chief of police at some point in their career would take it upon themselves to engage in conduct that was evil and terrifying in its nature,” said Gibson.

Gibson said this case helps to dispel any notion that law enforcement will not hold its own members accountable, or that prosecutors are afraid to prosecute law enforcement officers.

As for the victims, Gibson said his office is pleased with the outcome, but the pain remains for the victims.

“The trauma they feel has utterly changed their lives and their outlooks … and the way they see law enforcement, the way they see society,” Gibson said.

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Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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