NEW PORT RICHEY — Jeffrey Crouch once said he wanted people to stop comparing him to O.J. Simpson.
Okay, then how about Houdini?
Because Crouch escaped legal peril once again on Thursday when a jury acquitted him of two counts of misdemeanor battery.
"Thank you, jury," said Crouch, 52, waving to the jurors who set him free. "Thank you."
It was not his first escape.
Over the years juries have twice acquitted him of allegations he beat his girlfriend. He was found guilty of battery in 2000 and served 20 days in jail.
But it is his link to two unsolved murders that has made the name Jeffrey Christian Crouch so infamous in Pasco County.
In 1987, the strangled body of his wife, Jean, was found on Green Key Beach. Crouch was charged with her murder but a judge tossed his alleged confession because he had been denied the right to make a phone call.
In 1998, Crouch and his then-girlfriend, Anna May Becker, were named suspects in the death of his infant son, Travis. The baby died of a blow to the head, and they were the only adults home at the time. Police say Crouch remains a suspect.
To this day he denies playing any role in those deaths, just as he denied the latest allegations that he beat two people in his Port Richey home in October.
No, Crouch testified Thursday, he didn't choke or body slam anyone. He just wanted his buddy's girlfriend out of his house.
"Her boyfriend didn't like me grabbing her," Crouch told the jury. "So he attacked me. We went to the ground. I got him in a submission hold.
"That's it. We shook hands and hugged."
It might not have helped the state that everyone involved admitted they were drinking, that one victim couldn't be found and the victim who did testify had a prior conviction — not to mention the testimony of Crouch's girlfriend Melissa Ann Uhr backed his account.
Uhr, however, was the alleged victim in those old domestic violence cases. She blamed herself in two trials, and didn't show up for the third case.
Had he been convicted, Crouch faced up to two years in the county jail and probation.
He and his father, Richard Crouch, left the West Pasco Judicial Center with a mix of relief and defiance.
"He's been accused of a lot … ," the father said, "but ain't been convicted of anything."
Jamal Thalji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6236.