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Supreme Court upholds conviction in brutal 2008 killing

Demarcus Crawford

Demarcus Crawford

The Georgia Supreme Court on Friday unamiously upheld the conviction and life prison sentence given to Demarcus “Money Marc” Crawford for his role in the brutal 2008 killing of a Lilburn man.

Crawford was part of a four-person robbery crew that prosecutors said stole $15,000 to $18,000 each, and killed Tedla Lemma, 51, originally from Ethiopia, after he was found dead inside his home on March 25, 2008. Lemma had fled Ethiopia with his brother for political asylum had worked 16-hour days at Atlanta area convenience stores for years before saving enough money to open his own liquor store.

Lemma was found bound with neckties, a cable and belt, then kicked and beaten until his ribs broke and his eyes swelled shut. An adult diaper was tied over his face, according to briefs filed in the case. The cause of death was mechanical obstruction of the nose and mouth, combined with blunt force trauma, according to the medical examiner.

Following a jury trial, Crawford was acquitted of malice murder but convicted of felony murder, burglary and false imprisonment, and he was sentenced to life in prison. He then appealed, and argued that the evidence was insufficient to sustain his convictions.

Lorna Araya, who was also Ethiopian, testified for the state as part of a plea bargain that in late 2007 and early 2008, she masterminded several burglaries in which she targeted members of Gwinnett County’s Ethiopian community whom she suspected stored money or other valuables in their homes.

Several years earlier, Tedla worked as a cashier when a convenience store was robbed and he was shot, which left him partially paralyzed. Araya said she chose the Lemmas to rob because her parents had dealings with the Lemmas and she was familiar with the operation of the store and when the most cash would be around.

In the opinion written by Justice Carol Hunstein, the high court disagreed with Crawford’s appeal and upheld his convictions and sentence. Crawford’s attorney argued that the evidence was insufficient because it was based alone on the uncorroborated testimony of an admitted accomplice, Araya. Cell phone data also tied Crawford to the scene of the crime, according to briefs filed in the case.

“The evidence was thus sufficient to corroborate Araya’s testimony” under the statute in effect at the time, Hunstein wrote in the opinion. “This being the case, the evidence was also sufficient to enable a rational trier of fact to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Crawford was guilty of the crimes of which he was convicted.”