Malicious Burning” Plea in Delonte Butler Murder

Phillip Crooms today pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice, robbery and “malicious burning” in connection to the death of Delonte Butler in Sept. 2010.

According a proffer of evidence read in court Friday, prosecutors believe that Butler was shot by a rifle while inside of a vehicle by Croom’s co-defendant, Joseph Spinks. Immediately following the shooting, the car collided with a tree. Crooms, who was charged with felony murder, was not suspected of taking part in the shooting. Charging documents alleged that Crooms handed Spinks a bottle of rubbing alcohol in order to light the car on fire and destroy evidence of the shooting.

At a preliminary hearing a medical examiner testified that either the shooting or the fire could have independently killed Butler.

Prosecutors have agreed to not pursue the felony murder charge in exchange for the obstruction, robbery, and malicious burning guilty pleas.

At the hearing Friday Prosecutor Chris Kavanaugh said that after shooting Butler, Spinks asked Crooms if he’d like to see a dead body. Crooms agreed and together they went to where Butler’s car had crashed. Once there, they stole Butler’s wallet and took his jeans. Later they decided that the vehicle should be burned so that their fingerprints wouldn’t be found. Crooms initially intended to light the fire using a bottle of rubbing alcohol and a t-shirt, but Spinks ultimately light the fire, Kavanauagh said.

When asked by Judge Ronna Beck if all this information was correct, Crooms said it was.

Under the terms of the plea agreement, Crooms has agreed to a sentence of 10 years in prison. Beck could sentence him to more or less time after reviewing a pre-sentence report. Sentencing is scheduled for May 25 at 11 a.m.

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