Pine Bluff, Arkansas -
A legal ordeal that's lasted eight years has come to a close for the family of 17-year-old Casey Crowder. The Watson Chapel High School student was killed in 2006 after her car ran out of gas when she was on the way home from a friend's house near Dumas.
Kenneth Osburn was arrested and then convicted of capital murder in 2008. But the state Supreme Court ordered a new trial and disqualified his confession, saying he had asked for an attorney but wasn't provided one.
Osburn's new trial was set to start in august, but he pleaded guilty to second degree murder and kidnapping on Wednesday. He'll spend about seven years in prison before he's eligible for parole. For Casey's mother, the plea deal spared her family stress, and she feels it removed a threat for other families as well.
"We are very relieved today that we don't have to go through another trial," Melinda Crowder said.
For the first time in eight years, Crowder's family doesn't have to wonder when they'll have to walk into a courtroom.
"The trials are so hard on our family," she said. "We are very relieved he finally said the word guilty."
On Wednesday, Kenneth Osburn, 54, pleaded guilty to kidnapping and killing Casey Crowder in 2006.
"People talk about closure, but I just don't think there's ever closure, because she's not ever coming back," Crowder said.
Osburn's capital murder conviction in 2008 was overturned by the Supreme Court the following year, due to interrogations occuring after Osburn had asked for a lawyer. His confession was ruled inadmissible.
"We were not going to be able to use it in the next trial so there was a big possibility that he woud have won," Crowder said.
But with the guilty plea, Crowder said she can focus on the lives that won't be in danger because of Osburn's being behind bars.
"If there's any way I could prevent anything happening to someone else's child I want to, because it is a horrible thing for parents to have to go through," she said.
Crowder said she wants to focus on the positives, like the annual softball tournament held in her daughter's memory each year.
"That tournament provides scholarships to seniors. So, it's helping them," she said. "And then a major part of it is safety awareness. We have the police come out and talk to the girls about avoiding dangerous situations so they don't make the same mistake Casey did."
She also hopes that the pain will continue to fade each year, even as Casey's memory remains forever alive.
"I think each year we do learn a little bit more of how to deal with it and make it positive and laugh and talk about her instead of being sad," she said.
Osburn will be eligible for parole in roughly seven years. Crowder said she planned to make every effort to keep him behind bars in hopes of keeping families safe.
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