Fresno child killer freed when victim's mother won't testify

FRESNO, Calif.

/*Demetris Reese*/ was originally charged with murder and child abuse. But Tuesday, he was sentenced to time served and four years of probation for voluntary manslaughter.

Prosecutors dropped the murder charges against Reese less than a week before he was set to go to trial. They won't comment on the reason, but Action News has learned it had a lot to do with losing the mother as a witness.

Reese walked out of court with a felony conviction for killing a young child, but without spending any time in prison.

The 24-year-old pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter in the death of Michael Crawford, but as he left the court a free man, he and his attorney chose not to talk about what happened.

"We just figured we'd give you the opportunity to say something if you wanted to say something about the case," said an Action News reporter asking for comment.

"No thanks," Reese said.

Police arrested Reese after the 4-year-old's death in May 2010.

At a preliminary hearing, detectives said the boy's mother, /*Jennifer Crawford*/, told them she saw Reese hitting her son with a leather belt.

Coroners said Michael's death was caused by prolonged child abuse. But Reese's attorney says Jennifer Crawford's story changed over time. And as the time for Reese's murder trial came close, she got her own attorney and refused to testify against her former boyfriend.

"When that happens, it changes the whole ballgame," said ABC-30 legal analyst Tony Capozzi. "It changes all of the rules or everything you expected to happen at a trial and when that happens, that's when both sides get together and try to resolve it in terms of a plea bargain."

Capozzi says when the prosecution lost such a key witness, both sides had something to lose if they went to trial. He says the plea deal was a decent middle ground. "Voluntary manslaughter means there's no premeditation, no evil intent," he said.

Reese wouldn't talk to us on camera, but off camera he did ask a reporter to tell people he's really a good guy caught in a bad place. He'll have to attend child abuse and parenting classes for the next year.

ABC30 couldn't track down Jennifer Crawford for any comment.

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