Judge eyes 2022 trial in deaths of 2 teens buried in yard

SPRINGFIELD, Ga. (AP) — A Georgia judge said he hopes to schedule a trial early next year for three family members charged in the deaths of 2 teenage siblings found buried outside their home.

Effingham County sheriff’s deputies found the children’s bodies in December 2018 after a tip brought authorities to their father’s mobile home. Investigators said Mary Frances Crocker, 14, had been dead for roughly two months. Her older brother, Elwyn Crocker Jr., had also been 14 when last seen about two years earlier. Both children were home-schooled and no one reported them missing.

Their father, Elwyn Crocker Sr., and two extended family members still await trial on murder charges and other criminal counts. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against all three, and the coronavirus pandemic delayed the case for roughly a year.

Crocker Sr. appeared in court for a status hearing Thursday along with the other defendants — his mother-in-law, Kimberly Renee Wright, and her son, Mark Anthony Wright.

More than 200 pretrial motions have been filed by attorneys, WTOC-TV reported. Superior Court Judge F. Gates Peed said Thursday he plans hearings to resolve them beginning in August and hopes for a trial by next spring.

“I would like to be in a position to have a jury in place in the first quarter of 2022,” Peed said. “That might be overly optimistic, or it might not be.”

A sheriff’s investigator testified that Mary Crocker was starved, beaten and kept bound and naked in a dog crate as punishment by her father and stepfamily before she died. Later indictments said Elwyn Crocker Jr. suffered similar treatment.

Two other family members — the children’s stepmother, Candice Crocker, and Roy Prater, the boyfriend of Candice Crocker’s mother — pleaded guilty to murder last year and agreed to testify against the others.

The three defendants awaiting trial have pleaded not guilty. Their charges include malice murder, felony murder, aggravated sexual battery, cruelty to children, concealing the death of another and false imprisonment.

The judge has issued a gag order prohibiting attorneys, law enforcement officers and witnesses from discussing the case outside the courtroom.

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