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New Haven Register (CT) November 22, 1989 Crafts guilty of murdering wife Author: Mark Zaretsky; Susan A. Zavadsky Dateline: Norwalk A Superior Court jury convicted Richard Crafts of murder Tuesday for killing his wife, Helle, and chopping up her body parts with a wood chipper. It was the first case ever tried in Connecticut without a body as evidence. Crafts, 51, a former airline pilot from Newtown, faces a maximum 60-year prison term, the equivalent of a life sentence in Connecticut. His sentencing is Jan. 8. The case also was the state's first to be granted two changes of venue because of pervasive publicity. The first trial ended abruptly last year in a mistrial after one juror refused to continue deliberating. After jury foreman John D. "Dave" Walton of New Canaan read the verdict Tuesday, sheriff's deputies led an outwardly emotionless Crafts away, without handcuffs, to the Community Correctional Center in Bridgeport. He has been held in lieu of $750,000 bond since his arrest in January 1987. "Thank God it's over," said Jette Rompe of the Stony Creek section of Branford, one of Helle Crafts' closest friends. "We all are very happy that justice was served." Rompe, like Helle Crafts, is a native of Denmark. They worked together at Pan American World Airways, where Crafts was a flight attendant. Rompe said that she had felt "ever since Helle disappeared . . . that Richard was involved in it and had done something. "If he had gone free, I would have been very nervous," she said. Susan Lausten of Newtown, who has described Helle Crafts as her closest friend, said she was relieved for the couple's three children and Helle's family. The last time anyone other than Richard Crafts saw Helle Crafts alive was on the evening of Nov. 18, 1986. She was 39. One of Crafts' two lawyers, Gerard Smyth, said after the verdict that his client maintains he is innocent and plans to appeal. The defense will base that appeal on several issues, including the manner in which jurors were selected, and Judge Martin L. Nigro's refusal to instruct the jury on two possible lesser charges, Smyth said. Smyth said that pretrial publicity about the case made it impossible to find an unbiased jury. He said the appeal also will address Nigro's refusal to dismiss several prospective jurors who were aware that Crafts' first trial ended in an mistrial in New London last year. Danbury State's Attorney Walter Flanagan disagreed. "Anyone who was present knows there was no difficulty in finding a jury that was free of bias," he said. "I'm elated, not for my own edification, but for the cause of justice . . . " Flanagan said. "When you stop to think about it, 23 of 24 (jurors) were satisfied. That's a pretty high standard of proof." Crafts' first trial ended abruptly, after juror Warren Maskell, the only holdout for acquittal, refused to continue deliberating. Helle Crafts' mother, Elisabeth Nielsen, reached by telephone at her home in Hoersholm, Denmark, said she was aware of the decision but did not want to comment. "You must understand that I don't want to talk about it," she said in Danish. Rompe, who also spoke to Nielsen, said, "She's relieved that it's over and she was also sad that it should end like this." The Crafts children, Andrew, 13, Thomas, 9, and Kristina, 8, live with Crafts' sister and brother-in- law, Karen and David Rodgers, in Westport. They were not immediately told of their father's guilty verdict, David Rodgers said. State psychologists will tell the children today, he said. David Rodgers delivered some of the most damaging testimony when he closed the prosecution case by saying that Crafts had told him police would find nothing because "There's no body. It's gone." Rodgers said Tuesday, "There's more that never came out at the trial, that I'm holding back in case there's an appeal." David Rodgers said his family and he "are all very much relieved and very much satisfied with a just verdict. We are happy to close that chapter," he said. "All the grief and sorrow is past. We are going to put our lives together." The verdict came midway through the fourth day of deliberations in the 11 week trial in Superior Court in Norwalk. "Put down that she was a good mother," said juror John J. Shanahan of Stamford, referring to Helle Crafts as he walked to his car. "The character assassination was uncalled for," he said, referring to suggestions by Crafts' defense that Helle Crafts was having an affair and had run away from her family. Crafts blinked but showed no other emotion as Walton, a vice president at Bristol-Myers Co. in New York City, read the verdict. None of the jurors looked at Crafts as Walton spoke. The jury, by convicting Crafts of murder, rejected an option that it had inquired about Monday: the possibility of finding Crafts guilty of first-degree manslaughter by reason of extreme emotional disturbance. Manslaughter would have carried a maximum prison sentence of 20 years. After the verdict, Crafts gathered his notebooks. Sheriff's deputies led him from the courtroom. Walton, reading a written statement from the entire jury in the parking lot behind the courthouse when court adjourned, called the jury "very bright, committed team members" who "all had a high regard for one another." He said they assigned specific roles from the start, "and we used a building block analysis to reach our decision. We reconstructed the situation in very great detail using key evidence and testimony elements." Jurors agreed "that we must be comfortable with the decision and that we will live it for the rest of our lives," he said. The prosecution proved during the trial that a few bone fragments, the crown of a tooth, part of a thumb, a fingernail, a toenail and several thousand strands of blond hair found along Lake Zoar are all that remain of Helle Crafts' body. Her disappearance, three years ago last Sunday, came soon after she told her husband that she wanted a divorce. The impending divorce was the result of Helle Crafts' discovery that her husband was having an affair with a New Jersey flight attendant - one of at least two affairs that Richard Crafts was having at that time. The case drew international attention, both because of Helle Crafts' ties in Europe and the grisly nature of the crime. Register reporter Susan A. Zavadsky contributed to this story.
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