Nearly eight years after Casey Crowder’s body was found near a drainage canal east of Dumas, the Desha County truck driver suspected of strangling her to death has pleaded guilty to her murder.
In a plea agreement on Wednesday, 54-year-old Kenneth Osburn pleaded guilty to kidnapping and second-degree murder in the 2006 death of the Pine Bluff teen. He received a 30-year sentence for murder and a 10-year sentence for kidnapping. The sentences will run consecutive.
“It was a negotiated plea that I hated, but it was probably the least worst option,” 10th Judicial District Prosecutor Thomas Deen said, adding that Osburn belongs in a grave.
The body of the Watson Chapel High School senior was on Sept. 2, 2006 with a black zip-tie around her neck. She had been missing since Aug. 27, 2006 when her vehicle ran out of gas on U.S. 65 in Dumas while returning home to Pine Bluff from her boyfriend’s home at Pickens, police said.
During the investigation into Crowder’s death, law enforcement officials viewed video cameras located at businesses along U.S. 65 and U.S. 165. A truck with distinctive markings like the truck Osburn owned was seen on that stretch of highway the morning of Crowder’s disappearance. A witness told police that she someone slumped over in Osburn’s truck the same morning.
Osburn subsequently made statements implicating himself in Crowder’s murder. He was tried in 2008 and sentenced to life in prison after an Ashley County jury convicted him of capital murder and kidnapping. The case had been moved from Desha County to Ashley County due to pretrial publicity.
The following year, the Arkansas Supreme Court overturned the conviction and ordered a new trial. The court said Osburn’s statements to police could not be used as evidence in the retrial because he was interrogated without an attorney even though he had requested one.
“The suppression of the confession put the State in an untenable position,” Deen said.
Osburn will serve 14.5 years before he becomes eligible for parole. He has already served eight of those years.
In its 5-2 opinion, the state Supreme Court said Osburn’s Constitutional rights were violated prior to his arrest when investigators continued to interrogate him without an attorney even though he requested one.
Osburn, on Sept. 4, 2006 at 2:55 p.m., voluntarily presented himself for an interview by investigators and consented to searches of both his home and truck. After investigators noticed scratches on Osburn’s arms, he permitted the agents to photograph his body.
That night, at 11:15 p.m., Osburn was again interviewed, this time by Arkansas State Police Special Agent Rick Newton and FBI Agent Boyd Boshears. In this interview, which was audibly recorded, the agents repeatedly attempted to obtain information or a confession from Osburn. Osburn denied any involvement in Casey Crowder’s death and invoked his right to an attorney. Despite that request for an attorney, the interview continued. At the conclusion of the interview, Osburn was not arrested.
Just over three weeks later, on Sept. 28, 2006, Osburn was arrested and taken to a a metal outbuilding on property belonging to then-Desha County Sheriff-elect Jim Snyder where he was interviewed. He was allegedly taken to the metal shed to avoid media stationed at the Southeast Arkansas Law Enforcement Center at Dumas.
In an attempt to obtain a confession from Osburn, Agents Newton and Boshears “used various tactics and investigative techniques in an attempt to ‘change his demeanor.'” Though Osburn asked the agents to call his lawyer, the interview continued. The agents, however, terminated the interview when Osburn made another request for an attorney.
While Newton was outside of the metal outbuilding making arrangements for Osburn’s transportation, a conversation took place between Osburn and Agent Boshears. That conversation was not recorded.
During a suppression hearing, Agent Boshears testified that Osburn had asked him if he could see his family. Boshears explained that was not his decision to make, but he would ask. He then explained the process that would take place, including transport and booking, followed by arraignment. Boshears testified that Osburn again asked to see his family and that Boshears assured Osburn that he would ask. At that time, according to Boshears, Osburn stated that he was “in a mess.”
Boshears said after suggesting prayer Osburn asked him to pray for him. He testified that he told Osburn he had and he would. Osburn then became emotional, his demeanor changed, and he requested to see his daughter, Boshears’ testified.
After a brief discussion regarding faith, Boshears asked Osburn, according to the circuit court’s findings, if he wanted to “keep talking,” to which Osburn replied that he wanted to “do the right thing and talk.” Boshears then informed Agent Newton that Osburn “requested to continue our conversation.”
The agents interviewed Osburn again at 7:25 p.m. when he reportedly confessed to his involvement. Osburn was then taken to the Southeast Arkansas Law Enforcement Center to see his mother and his children.
After visiting with his family, Osburn approached Snyder who later testified that Osburn had denied that he “did that to that girl” and told him that he “was outside” himself “watching (himself) do it.”
When Snyder told Boshears and Newton what Osburn said they interviewed him again.
In what is referred to in the Supreme Court ruling as the 8:55 p.m. interview, Osburn reportedly told the agents he wanted to talk, signed the rights form, and again confessed to his involvement.
Before trial, Osburn made a motion to suppress each of his statements, arguing that they were taken despite his requests for an attorney and that he did not knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently waive his rights.
Circuit Court Judge Sam Pope agreed that any statements made during the 4:45 p.m. should be suppressed but denied Osburn’s motion to suppress the 7:25 p.m. confession and the 8:55 p.m. confession.
Citing a 1983 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Arkansas Supreme Court Associate Justice Paul E. Danielson, writing for the majority in the 5-2 Arkansas Supreme Court decision, said that in order for an accused to initiate, his inquiry or statement must indicate some desire or willingness to discuss the investigation.
“Here, the interaction between Osburn and Agent Boshears began with Osburn’s inquiry as to whether he could see his family before being taken to jail. Agent Boshears, after telling Osburn that that was not his decision, according to his own testimony, began to describe to Osburn what was about to happen and what Osburn could expect,” Danielson wrote in the Arkansas Supreme Court ruling. “Again, Osburn asked to see his family, and, again, Agent Boshears told him that he would ask. It was at that point that Osburn simply made the statement that he was ‘in a mess,’ which the State claims constituted an initiation of contact with the police. However, we think it is clear that such a statement could have a variety of meanings…”
The state Supreme Court ruled that “absolutely no inquiry or statement made by Osburn evinced any willingness on his part to reengage or reinitiate a conversation relating to the investigation; to the contrary, his inquiries and statements indicated a desire to see his family and expressed his despair. Nor did Osburn’s statement that he was ‘in a mess’ initiate.”
Danielson said the only statement made by Osburn that indicated any willingness to discuss the investigation after his invocation of the right to counsel came after Boshears asked him if he wanted to keep talking.
“After reviewing the totality of the circumstances, it is abundantly clear to this court that Osburn’s statements were the result of coercion and in violation of his Fifth Amendment right,” Danielson wrote.
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