SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah man who pleaded guilty to setting a house fire that killed his restaurateur-husband was sentenced Thursday to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Judge James Blanch said the slaying was “an extremely cruel way to kill a person,” as he decided Craig Crawford, 48, should not have a future chance of being released.
Blanch said there was planning involved in setting the fire that destroyed the stairs in the couple’s well-appointed home and trapped John Williams, a well-known Salt Lake City restaurateur and LGBT pioneer.
Authorities say Crawford watered the plants outside while his husband screamed for help as the house burned in May 2016. Williams died of smoke inhalation.
His lawyers had asked for a chance for Crawford to be released eventually, arguing that a brain injury during a 2012 ski accident started a descent into psychosis that culminated in the slaying.
“I know I took something wonderful from this world,” Crawford said, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. “I know this with my whole being.”
Prosecutors, though, said his methamphetamine use was more to blame for the fire set after Williams, 72, filed for divorce.
Williams tried to get a protective order, but no judges were available. He was supposed to be in court the morning after his death, his lawyer Matthew Anderson testified.
Williams’ niece, Laura Forsgren, said she knew her uncle was in serious danger after lawyers served an eviction notice on his unstable husband without a protective order in place.
“I knew, I knew it was going to happen,” Forsgren said loudly from the witness stand, the Deseret News reported.
The couple fell “madly in love” after meeting a decade ago, but after they wed in 2009 Crawford started trying to isolate Williams from his friends and family, she said.
The divorce filing came Crawford picked up an ax during a dinner party at their home in Canada, according to court documents.
Crawford pleaded guilty to aggravated murder and arson charges, avoiding the possibility of the death penalty.