To prove Albert F. Crandall murdered his wife, prosecutors turned on Tuesday to a compelling set of witnesses — three people who said he admitted to the killing.
"You will hear, this defendant told people that he smothered his wife with a pillow," Assistant State Attorney Kate Alexander said.
But what kind of killing was it? Crandall previously has been portrayed as a sympathetic husband who was trying to save his wife from the pain and agony of a long illness.
His suicide note alluded to this, but Crandall survived the slashes to his wrist.
The first day of his trial did not reveal whether Crandall's public defenders will try to argue that Davis' death was a mercy killing. They chose not to make an opening statement Tuesday, reserving the right to do so later.
But the issue did come up when jurors were not in the courtroom.
During a discussion about what instructions jurors would be given before they deliberate, Assistant State Attorney Doug Ellis said he would like to include explaining that a person who assists someone in "self-murder" commits the crime of manslaughter. In other words, if the jury were to decide Crandall was merely helping his wife commit suicide, that would still be a crime.
But Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Michael Andrews was skeptical that an instruction like that could apply to the case of a man accused of smothering his wife with a pillow.
"That isn't assisting in anything," Andrews said. "That's murder."
During trial testimony on Tuesday, Patrick Schwar of St. Petersburg Fire-Rescue said when he arrived in April 2012 at the couple's apartment at 661 77th Ave. N, he could smell "the odor of death" before he even got inside. Judith Davis, 61, was lying in bed, dead. Crandall was in the bed also, with superficial cuts on his wrists that were not bleeding at the time.
Schwar said that he began asking Crandall when his wife died, and he said, "she had been hurting and asked me to do it several times. I did it Saturday at 3 a.m."
Later, when Crandall was taken to St. Anthony's Hospital, he told medical staff "My wife had medical issues, I suffocated her with a pillow," said Officer Peter Yarbrough, who testified that he overheard the comment. And nurse Margaret Nguyen recalled Crandall saying that "he suffocated his wife."
Police said they found a suicide note in the apartment. The note, which was not been presented to the jury Tuesday, began: "(Judy) has been in constant pain and agony for the past several months. No one has been helpful in helping her mainly due to our economic situation. This is the course of what happens when people like us with limited income and no insurance, if anything can come out of this hopefully people will find a message that … we all should have proper medical care when we need it.
"(Judy) and I have both battled our demons and for the most part compared to some we have had a good run," the note continued. "But it seemed to us that what we faced now was not where we wanted to be at this age, but to go out frail and in agony was not what we wanted either."
Staff writer Curtis Krueger can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8232. Twitter: @ckruegertimes.