By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
A former Escambia County resident, serving three life sentences for her part in the crack cocaine-fueled 1994 murders of an Escambia County man and an elderly Conecuh County couple was denied parole for the fourth time during recent hearings by the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles.
On July 18, 1994, Dedree Ann Crane, 58, accompanied James William McGowan on a two-county search for the addictive drug, which court documents show they smoked nearly $500 worth over a period of several hours. Their search stretched from Castleberry into Evergreen and left the bodies of Barry Harper, Hiram E. Johnson and Mamie Lucille Johnson in its wake.
Crane told a jury in 1997 that McGowan picked her up at her parents’ house around noon, and the two smoked almost all of the $150 worth of crack he had with him. As their supply ran low, he purchased $50 more. She said she later pawned her ring for $20, with which they bought more crack.
The duo later went to Harper’s residence, and McGowan concocted a story that persuaded Harper to give them $125, with which they bought more cocaine. After James Robert Pitts refused to give them money, they returned to Harper’s house. Crane testified that they procured what turned out to be the murder weapon while on the way there.
When they arrived, Crane distracted Harper while McGowan hit him in the head at least four times from behind with a hammer, mortally wounding him. The couple found $165 in their victim’s wallet and bought more crack with it.
Trial testimony shows that the duo then drove toward Evergreen, stopping at the Johnson home in the Antioch community on the way. When Johnson turned his back on McGowan, McGowan hit the 82-year-old man three times on top of his head with the hammer. Crane said she went outside and could see McGowan’s silhouette through the bedroom window as he raised the hammer and struck Johnson’s 79-year-old wife several times.
The duo, now $500 richer, headed for Evergreen, planning to buy more crack cocaine from a dealer there. After a brief but unnerving brush with Evergreen police, the couple drove to Slidell, Louisiana.
Crane said she persuaded McGowan to stop at a motel there, and she had the desk clerk call 911 to report that she was being held against her will. Slidell police arrived, arranged for Crane to telephone her mother and let McGowan go.
The Castleberry woman later gave several false statements to investigators before admitting to her part in the crime spree and leading them to where she had thrown the bloody hammer.
The case finally went to trial in 1997, and a jury recommended during the penalty phase that McGowan be sentenced to life in prison without chance of parole. The trial judge overrode the jury’s decision and ruled that McGowan, found guilty of two counts of capital murder, should be put to death for the grisly crimes.
He currently resides at Holman Correctional Facility, on Alabama’s Death Row.
Crane, who has served almost 24 years in the state prison system, agreed to testify against McGowan in exchange for the state not seeking the death penalty against her. She was eventually sentenced to three consecutive life sentences (with the chance of parole) and is currently housed at Birmingham Community Work Center.