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‘Evil and terrifying’: Ex-police chief gets 8 life sentences for setting series of fires targeting rivals and people he believed slighted him

David Crawford (Prince George’s County Fire:EMS Department and YouTube screengrabs)

David Crawford (Prince George’s County Fire:EMS Department and YouTube screengrabs)

A 71-year-old former police chief in Maryland will spend the rest of his life behind bars after being convicted on a dozen felony charges for setting a string of fires targeting the homes and property of his perceived rivals and enemies. Circuit Court Judge Richard S. Bernhardt on Tuesday ordered serial arsonist David Crawford to serve eight life sentences plus an additional 75 years in state prison for the fires, which were set in multiple counties across the state over the course of nearly a decade, authorities announced.

Due to several of the sentences being served concurrently, Crawford’s “actual executable prison sentence” is two terms of life plus 75 years, according to a press release from the Office of the State’s Attorney for Howard County.

Though no one was killed in any of the fires set by Crawford, many — including young children — were forced to flee their homes in the middle of the night to avoid the flames and lost nearly all of their personal possessions.

“After careful consideration of the state’s recommendation, arguments and victim impact statements, Judge Bernhardt delivered a sentence today that we believe is wholly appropriate for the defendant’s crimes,” State’s Attorney Richard Gibson said in a statement following the proceedings. “The horror and nature of arson is so deeply powerful in its impact and complete in its destruction in the victim’s peace of mind that it is only fitting the defendant spend the rest of his natural life behind bars.”

Tuesday’s sentencing came after a Howard County jury in March found Crawford guilty on eight counts of attempted first-degree murder, three counts of first-degree arson and one count of first-degree malicious burning for fires set in that jurisdiction between 2017 and 2018. He is still facing trial on four counts of attempted first-degree murder in Prince George’s County and three counts of first-degree arson in Montgomery County, among other charges. He was first arrested in March 2021.

In total, Crawford is accused of intentionally starting 12 fires in six counties that targeted a former City of Laurel official, three former law enforcement officials, including a former City of Laurel Police Chief, two relatives, two of Crawford’s chiropractors, and a resident in his neighborhood.

“Investigators linked multiple cases following a 2020 fire when they discovered Crawford had previous disagreements with multiple victims,” the release states. “In January 2021, a search of Crawford’s residence found several pieces of evidence, including a list of targets that were known victims.”

Crawford previously served as chief of the Laurel Police Department from 2006 until he tendered his resignation in 2010. Prior to his stint as chief, Crawford worked for the Prince George’s County Police Department and the District Heights Police Department.

At trial, prosecutors showed jurors surveillance video from several of the scenes where Crawford lit fires. In those instances, Crawford can be seen displaying a “similar pattern” of using gasoline as an accelerant to set the blazes.

The first fire was allegedly set in Prince George’s County in 2011, during which he was allegedly caught on surveillance tape torching an unoccupied vehicle before accidentally setting himself on fire and fleeing the scene.

“These families have waited several years for justice and we are grateful to play some part in delivering that for them,” Gibson said. “It is particularly egregious that someone who dedicated their life to law enforcement and was the chief of police at some point in their career would take it upon themselves to engage in conduct that was evil and terrifying in its nature. This sentence should send a message that prosecutors are capable of holding law enforcement accountable if they violate our laws.”

Crawford’s attorney said he plans to appeal the verdict and sentence, WBAL-TV reported.

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.