A Desha County truck driver pleaded not guilty Tuesday in the kidnapping and strangulation death of a Pine Bluff teenager in a case built on video tapes, witness statements, and possible forensic evidence.
Kenneth Ray Osburn, a 46-year-old widowed truck driver from the Wolfe Project near McGehee, is charged with kidnapping and capital murder in the Aug. 27 death of Casey Crowder, a 17-year-old senior at Watson Chapel High School.
If convicted of kidnapping, Osburn faces a possible life sentence. If convicted of murder, he faces either life imprisonment or the death penalty.
Tenth Judicial District Prosecutor Thomas Deen said he anticipates the state will seek the death penalty.
In addition witness statements and video tapes retrieved from surveillance cameras at businesses along U.S. 65 at Dumas where Crowder is believed to have been abducted, the state Crime Lab has identified certain animal hairs submitted in the case.
Deen said his office is consulting with an out-of-state lab to conduct forensic DNA analysis on those hairs.
The Arkansas Crime Lab does not perform mitochondrial DNA testing on animal hairs, according to Deen.
“There are hairs other than animal hairs that will also be analyzed,” Deen said.
Deen declined to disclose specific information about the “other” hairs or type of animal hair that will be analyzed.
Crowder’s body, identified through dental records, was found on Sept. 2 in a remote area in eastern Desha County, about six miles from U.S. 65 where her vehicle apparently ran out of gas.
Police said Crowder was returning home to Pine Bluff from her boyfriend’s home at Pickens during the early morning hours of Aug. 27, when her vehicle ran out of gas.
Her abandoned vehicle was discovered later that day. It had no gas in the tank, the doors were locked and the emergency flashers had been turned on.
“Casey was a motorist in distress and instead of coming to her aid Mr. Osburn kidnapped and strangled her to death,” Deen said in a recent interview.
Osburn, a convicted felon who completed the ninth grade before obtaining a General Equivalency Diploma (GED), was arrested on Sept. 28.
At a hearing in Arkansas City Tuesday morning, Circuit Judge Sam Pope asked Osburn if he understood the charges against him and the possible penalties.
Osburn said he didn’t understand the term “or” in the kidnapping charge.
Pope explained that the term “or” is used because the state outlined several possible purposes for which Crowder was kidnapped.
To be convicted of kidnapping the state has to prove one or more of six specified purposes for which the victim was kidnapped. In the Crowder case, the state has specified three possible purposes: to inflict physical injury or terrorize her or engage her in sexual intercourse, deviate sexual activity, or sexual contact.
After hearing Pope’s explanation, Osburn said he understood the charges and possible penalties.
He pleaded not guilty.
Osburn told Pope he doesn’t yet know if he will be able to hire an attorney and asked Pope to appoint someone to represent him.
Pope appointed Bing Colvin of Monticello, the chief public defender for the 10th Judicial District, to represent Osburn.