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MEMORIES SURVIVE



Published: Mon, October 20, 2008 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Patricia Meade

A double-chair porch swing next door was a favorite spot for 8-year-old Ranaisha.

YOUNGSTOWN — A blue chair, sized to fit preschoolers, sits on now-vacant land where the Crawford family home turned into a flaming death trap.

Someone placed cellophane-wrapped flowers on the chair, a stark reminder that children who once plopped on it are gone.

In January, the Crawford kids — Ranaisha, 8; Jeannine, 5; Aleisha, 3; and Brandon, 2 — died in the fire at 1645 Stewart Ave., along with their mother, Jennifer, and grandmother Carol.

Two other Crawfords, Ratia, 19, and Julius, 18, sister and brother, and three others managed to escape.

The blaze was deliberately set by 18-year-old Michael A. Davis at 5:30 a.m. Jan. 23.

Davis hasn’t been back to his Bennington Avenue home, just around the corner, since he was arrested roughly six hours after firefighters carried the six bodies out of the gutted Crawford home. He confessed that day to detectives.

Thursday will be 10 months to the day after life ended for the victims. That’s when jurors, who found Davis guilty of aggravated murder and arson in the capital case, will file back in to Mahoning County Common Pleas Court and listen to witnesses who want his life spared. The prosecution will ask jurors to reflect on trial testimony and exhibits.

Judge R. Scott Krichbaum told jurors to come prepared to be sequestered.

Autumn Brown, 20, knew all the Crawford kids, especially Ranaisha, who liked to come next door to her house at 1643 Stewart Ave. and visit while rocking on the double-chair porch swing.

“I don’t know if [Davis] did it or not. I don’t know who done it,” Brown said. “It was messed up the way they died; just tragic.”

Next to Brown, 17-year-old Ricky Williams lives with his mom. He stayed overnight at the Crawford house with his friend Julius and escaped the fire by falling out of a bedroom window. He said he’ll be in court Thursday.

“I’m glad [Davis] was found guilty,” Williams said from his front porch, declining to talk more. At trial, prosecutors said the motive for the fire was the cell phone Williams took from Davis and didn’t return.

Williams’ mom reported him missing late Wednesday, telling police they got into an argument and he left. She quoted her son as saying he was “dead in his heart and head.”

At 1650 Stewart Ave., across the street from the fatal fire scene, the burned-out hulk of the house belonging to 59-year-old Enrique Ayala acts as a reminder that Davis, according to court testimony, participated in an arson with his brothers about a month before he torched the Crawford home.

Josephine North, 64, is the mother of Brandon Owens Sr., who fathered the three youngest children who died — Jeannine, Aleisha and Brandon. “I knew [the Davis brothers] when they were babies. I would go to the soup kitchen and Salvation Army, and his mom would be in line with the boys like everyone else. I didn’t see them again until they started hanging around the Crawfords’ house,” she said

North, of Lexington Avenue, said her 24-year-old son was in prison at the time of the fire. He’s been with her since early spring.

She said her son and Jennifer Crawford, who already had Ranaisha when they got together, attended The Rayen School but both dropped out. She said they stayed with her on Lexington for about two years, and then Jennifer moved back to her mother’s.

“He couldn’t get a job; he tried to provide for his kids by selling drugs,” North said. “He’s messed up by the loss of his kids. He still [writes] the kids letters. I don’t know why, I guess to try to heal himself. He doesn’t like talking about [the fire]. That’s why he wasn’t in court.”

North said she last saw Ranaisha, Jeannine, Aleisha and Brandon at her house a day or two before they died.

“I was real close to the kids. I’m still hurting,” the grandmother said.

She’ll be in court Thursday. Does she want Davis put to death?

“I’ll leave it in the hands of the Lord,” North said.

Jurors found Davis guilty of 25 counts: six of aggravated murder and 19 aggravated arson. The arson counts were for the six who died from smoke inhalation, five who escaped, and eight firefighters who were injured.

meade@vindy.com


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