Prosecutors reached a plea agreement on Monday with a man who brutally killed his girlfriend and her mother two summers ago — a deal prosecutors said they had to take because of allegations of evidence tampering against a former Simpsonville police detective in a separate case decades earlier.
Michael James Crane pleaded guilty Monday to voluntary manslaughter in the bludgeoning deaths of his girlfriend, 26-year-old Allison Cross, and her mother, 56-year-old Jane Lanser, inside the mother’s Poinsettia subdivision home.
Circuit Judge Letitia Verdin sentenced Crane to 30 years in prison. Crane had been charged with two counts of murder that, if he was found guilty, could have landed him in prison for life.
Thirteenth Circuit Solicitor Walt Wilkins told GreenvilleOnline.com that he had at one point considered seeking the death penalty against Crane, but he later decided myriad circumstances didn’t meet the high standard for seeking capital punishment.
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Wilkins cited the charges against former Simpsonville Police Lt. George “Ralph” Bobo as undermining the prosecution’s ability to conduct a successful trial, because Bobo would have been a key witness.
Last March, Bobo was charged with obstructing justice and misconduct in office with warrants alleging that the detective disposed of potential evidence — namely a strand of hair, Wilkins said — from the unsolved 1984 killing of 20-year-old Cassandra Johnson.
Wilkins said he didn’t know when the case against Bobo would be resolved.
Bobo’s attorney, Jim Bannister, told GreenvilleOnline.com that the detective maintains his innocence, and he declined to comment on Monday’s proceedings.
“Bobo’s case is still pending,” Bannister said. “Based on that fact, it would be inappropriate to comment at this time.”
Family members of Lanser and Cross told the judge Monday that the allegations of misconduct in another case shouldn’t keep Crane from receiving a life sentence, particularly given the brutality of how they were killed.
The judge told the family that she believes prosecutors pursued the case as aggressively as they could under the circumstances.
Crane’s attorney, 13th Circuit Public Defender John Mauldin, said that Crane doesn’t remember what happened after being high on drugs and that Crane is remorseful.
Deputy Solicitor Betty Strom recited the facts of the case to the judge and suggested two 30-year prison sentences that would be served concurrently instead of consecutively.
Consecutive sentences would have, in effect, meant a 60-year prison sentence.
Anne-Marie Bannister — who is Lanser’s daughter and Cross’ sister (and no relation to Bobo’s attorney) — tearfully pleaded with the judge to impose a harsher sentence.
Bannister said her sister was leaving behind two young sons and that her mother was a loving parent who would do anything to help her children.
“Painfully, I lost my sister and my mother in one day,” she said.
Wilkins said he didn’t know of any other major cases that would be affected by the charges against Bobo.
Wilkins said his office hasn’t done an inventory on the number of smaller cases Bobo might have been involved in.
In the case of Crane, Bobo was first on the scene and took Crane’s statement to police, which would have been a key piece of evidence in a trial that would have required Bobo to testify, prosecutors said.
“A defense strategy could put Bobo on trial and not the defendant,” Wilkins said.
In Monday’s plea hearing, Mauldin said his theme of the case would be how drug use can destroy people and society in general.
Drug use, he said, “takes no prisoners. It also takes no names.”
Prosecutors said in Monday’s hearing that both Crane and Cross had been using Cross’ unemployment money to buy meth and had made two trips the night before the women were found dead on Aug. 2, 2011.
Lanser, Mauldin said in court, had taken the couple in and was hoping Crane could do much-needed yard maintenance.
Prosecutors said co-workers had become concerned when Lanser, a hard-working employee, hadn’t called in, so police went to her home to check on her and discovered the women’s bodies, and Crane sitting near them in the bedroom smoking a cigarette.
The bodies were badly beaten and wrapped in covers, prosecutors said, and forensic tests showed that Lanser alone had been struck by a hammer 23 times and stabbed seven times.
When police arrived, prosecutors said, Crane told them, “I never done anything like this before” and told them that he must have killed them because nobody else was in the house.
During the course of all of Monday’s proceedings, the question of why Crane would kill the women was never answered