Could an Alabama woman have shot herself twice?
On May 2, 2017, 37-year-old Jason Crawford discovered his wife, 32-year-old Tiffiney Crawford, slumped over in the driver's seat of her own van outside of their family's home in Cullman, Alabama — about 50 miles north of Birmingham.
"My wife is shot," Crawford told the 911 dispatcher. When Cullman County Sheriff's deputies arrived at the scene, they found Tiffiney with a pink revolver in her left hand, which Jason said she kept in her driver's side door for protection
The Crawford scene
Body camera footage showed what the sheriff's deputies saw that night at the scene. When one of the deputies approached the van and checked Tiffiney's left wrist for a pulse, her pink revolver fell out of her hand.
"What happened tonight, sir?"
Jason Crawford explained to the deputies that he and Tiffiney had been arguing. Crawford said he wasn't going to let her inside the house that night, so he was gathering up some of her clothes. "And the last thing I remember, she said she loved me, and I was going in the house," Crawford told the deputies. "And I heard a shot, a scream and then another shot."
Jason Crawford is told his wife is dead
Tiffiney Crawford had two gunshot wounds to her head — one shot was to the left side of her jaw and the other was to her left temple. At least one sheriff's deputy at the scene believed she had taken her own life. The paramedics tried to revive Tiffiney, but it was too late. "And they came over and told me that she was dead," Jason Crawford told "48 Hours." "It just made me feel sick in my stomach."
An unusual start
Before her death, Tiffiney and Jason had been married for more than six years. But when they first started dating, it wasn't exactly a fairy-tale beginning. Jason Crawford had already been divorced for several years after he says his first wife cheated on him. Tiffiney was also married at the time. But that didn't change the way Crawford felt about her. "I thought she was striking and beautiful. She was outgoing. A lot of things I wasn't," Crawford said. Eventually Tiffiney got divorced.
Their new family
In 2011, Jason and Tiffiney got married and she became a stepmom to Jason's son Logan from his previous marriage. The couple would also have a son of their own shortly after and then a daughter the following year. And as the kids grew up, Tiffiney was very active in their lives. "She was very involved with her children. And seeing that they were happy," Tiffiney's mother Cheryl McGucken told "48 Hours."
When McGucken learned about her daughter's death, she said, "I felt like I was kind of frozen in time." And since Tiffiney's passing, life hasn't been the same for McGucken. "Tiffiney was an individual that had a huge heart, and she just wanted to engulf everyone around her and help them find joy," she said.
Mothers Helping Mothers
Tiffiney's love for helping people is why McGucken says her daughter started a support group on Facebook called "Mothers Helping Mothers."
"She saw a vision that there were ... other mothers … that needed somebody to talk to," McGucken said. "And that group took off like a wildfire and spread all over the country." At the time of Tiffiney's death, the group had about 9,000 members.
Back at the scene
On the night of the shooting, Jason and Tiffiney's 5-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter were both asleep inside the house. Crawford said his then-14-year-old son Logan was also in the house and that he told Logan to call his grandparents to get there quickly. Once Crawford's parents arrived, the sheriff's deputies at the scene realized that Jason was the son of Ronda Crawford, pictured left with Jason, an office manager at the Cullman County Sheriff's Office.
"There's two shots."
Because the incident involved one of his employee's close relatives, Cullman County Sheriff Matt Gentry visited the Crawford scene that night. Sheriff Gentry told "48 Hours" that once he arrived, he spoke to the coroner and the coroner told him that Tiffiney's death appeared to be a suicide. "He said, 'The only weird thing is there's two shots.'" Gentry decided that because of Jason's mother's connection to his office, he wanted an autopsy done.
Joe Parrish takes over the Crawford case
After the sheriff's investigators finished processing the scene that night, Sheriff Gentry decided to turn the case over to the Alabama State Bureau of Investigation the following morning. Joe Parrish, pictured, was the state agent assigned to the case.
"I could have told our guys to work it," Gentry said. But he felt there was a potential conflict of interest because of Jason's mother Ronda's connection to his office. "I want full transparency," the sheriff said.
The first thing Joe Parrish did was obtain a search warrant for Tiffiney Crawford's van. But there was a problem: the sheriff's office released the van to the Crawford family the night before. By the time Parrish got to it — less than 24 hours after Tiffiney died — it had already been cleaned by Jason's family members. They had received permission from the sheriff's office. "There was nothing of evidentiary value to the van," Sheriff Gentry told "48 Hours". "Every bit of evidence that was needed was taken."
When Parrish began looking further into the Crawford case, he quickly learned that Tiffiney had been having an affair with another man.
"Nothing suicidal about her"
Lyndsy Luke, left, was a close friend of Tiffiney's and one of the few people who knew about the affair. Luke said Tiffiney told her she was making plans to leave Jason and that she got a job at a local grocery store to save up money for a new life. Luke has also never believed that Tiffiney would take her own life. "Suicidal people don't make plans," Luke told "48 Hours". "There was nothing suicidal about her."
The 911 call
When Joe Parrish reviewed the body camera footage and the 911 call, he never heard Jason Crawford mention the affair. Parrish said he also thought something was off about the 911 call. "It was very cold," he said. "It didn't sound like somebody that was worried about his wife."
And there was one question that the 911 dispatcher repeatedly asked that Crawford wouldn't answer. "'Who shot your wife?'" Parrish recalled. "He was avoiding the question."
Jason Crawford's first interview
A week after Tiffiney died, and with her autopsy still pending, Parrish brought Jason Crawford in for questioning. During that interview, Crawford said that in the months leading up to Tiffiney's death, he noticed a change in her. "She started drinking more," Crawford told Parrish. Crawford also confirmed that Tiffiney was right-handed, which was key information for Parrish given that the gun was found in Tiffiney's left hand.
Finding out about the affair
During this interview, Crawford also shared that on the day of Tiffiney's death, he discovered messages on their computer suggesting that she was having an affair. He said he called Tiffiney to confront her with what he'd found, but he said she denied it. A few hours later, Tiffiney came home with their two kids. Crawford brought them inside the house and told Tiffiney to stay outside.
Jason Crawford's account
Jason Crawford explained to Parrish that he and Tiffiney argued for more than an hour and when he remained insistent that Tiffiney wasn't allowed inside the house, he said she asked him to get her work clothes. "I was going in the house. I just shut the door when I heard shot, a scream and then another shot," he told Parrish. Crawford said he then ran back outside, pulled the driver's door open and called 911. After the interview ended, Crawford was free to go.
The polygraph test
About a week later, Jason rawford was brought back in for more questioning and agreed to take a polygraph test. "Your reactions were off the chain, OK?" the polygraph examiner told Crawford. But again, that interview ended without an arrest.
The autopsy results
A backlog in the State's ballistics lab would delay Tiffiney Crawford's autopsy results for about a year. But when the report came back in March 2018, the case was ruled a homicide. Dr. Valerie Green was the medical examiner who performed the autopsy.
"The thing that made me think that there could be something else going on with this case is … that gunshot wound on the left side of Ms. Crawford's head," Dr. Green said.
Dr. Green's analysis
Dr. Green explained that based on the absence of gunpowder particles and abrasions around the left temple wound, she concluded that the shot was fired from at least 10 inches away. "That's indicating that … she's holding her arm outward beyond 10 inches and trying to shoot herself," Dr. Green said. And she believed that to be unlikely, especially because Jason reported that he found Tiffiney in the driver's seat of her own van with the gun in her left hand and the car door closed.
An absence of blood on the driver's side door
And there was something else that concerned Dr. Green about the van. "I remember looking at pictures of the driver's side door," Green told "48 Hours." "And I didn't see any blood on that door. I didn't see any blood on the glass." This led Green to believe that the door was not closed when Tiffiney was shot. "And I think that that door is open because he was standing there," Green said.
Jason Crawford surrenders
With a homicide ruling from the medical examiner, investigator Joe Parrish and Jeff Roberts, the Cullman County assistant district attorney at the time, took the case to a grand jury. That grand jury came back with an indictment for murder against Jason Crawford.
On May 21, 2018, just over a year after Tiffiney's death, Crawford surrendered at the Cullman County Sheriff's Office. But he was only in custody for 30 minutes before he was released on bond
Crawford's defense team
Robert Tuten, left, and Nickolas Weatherly became Jason Crawford's's defense attorneys. "We don't believe Jason is guilty at all," Tuten told "48 Hours." "They did not see blood or anything on him. They found nothing that would indicate he had fired a firearm recently."
But Crawford was never tested for gunshot residue on the night of the shooting, and his house was never searched for bloody clothing. His attorneys also believe that Crawford was inside the house when the shots rang out, especially because his oldest son Logan told investigators that he heard his father come back inside right before the first gunshot.
Only person with a motive
But prosecutor Jeff Roberts and his assistant Debra Ball were confident in their case against Crawford. "I couldn't figure out who else did it. He's the only one who had a motive to do it," Roberts said. However, Roberts did acknowledge that it would be tough to overcome the fact that there was at least one officer at the scene who thought the shooting was consistent with a suicide. And there was also no direct physical evidence that linked Jason to Tiffiney's death.
Jason Crawford's trial begins
In November 2022, more than five years after Tiffiney's death, Jason Crawford, pictured with defense attorney Robert Tiuten, went on trial for her murder. The prosecution played the 911 call for the jury and showed them some of the body camera footage. Prosecutor Jeff Roberts argued what he believed to be Crawford's alleged motive: anger over his wife's affair.
One of Tiffiney's friends testified that after learning that Tiffiney had been cheating, Jason called her and said, "He couldn't go through this again," referencing how his first wife had also had an affair. But Crawford says he didn't say that.
The DNA expert
The prosecution also called DNA analyst Angela Fletcher who examined swabs taken from Tiffiney's gun. She testified that because there was only a trace amount of DNA detected on the gun, she couldn't say for sure whether there was any female DNA on it. She was certain, though, that both the grip and the trigger contained male DNA. She couldn't confirm whether that male DNA belonged to Jason Crawford. "The profile was so limited that I was unable to do any type of comparisons," Fletcher told "48 Hours."
Dr. Green's testimony
With so little DNA detected on the gun, the prosecution argued that Jason Crawford must have wiped the gun and then planted it in Tiffiney's hand. The defense said there was no proof of this. But perhaps the most damaging testimony against Crawford came from the medical examiner Dr. Valerie Green. She told the jury how she believed the gunshot wound to Tiffiney's temple was fired from more than 10 inches away.
The defense presents its case
The defense showed the jury a pre-recorded deposition with the former chief medical examiner of Alabama, Dr. James Lauridson. "I believe that … Mrs. Crawford shot herself first in the left side of the face and then shot herself in the left side of the head," Dr. Lauridson said. He also testified that there was no way to tell how far away the gun was when the shot to Tiffiney's temple was fired because her hair was in the way.
Tiffiney's emotional state
The defense also argued that Tiffiney was struggling emotionally and started seeing a counselor just one day before she died. Tiffiney's friends also testified that she had been drinking excessively and that she was upset because the man she'd had an affair with had recently broken up with her.
Tiffiney's journal was also entered into evidence and portions of it were read out loud to the jury. In an entry dated on May 2, 2017 – the day she died – she wrote, "I'm struggling with figuring out what to do with myself."
Jason Crawford takes the stand
On the last day of the trial, Jason Crawford took the stand. He told the jury that he loved Tiffiney and denied killing her. Crawford also testified that he called Tiffiney a degrading name on the night she died. "I was basically talking down to her ... like she wasn't human," Crawford told "48 Hours." "I feel sorry … because I feel like maybe that contributed to what pushed her over the edge to do that."
Jurors on the fence
After four days of testimony, the case went to the jury. Megan Brock was one of the jurors. She said that when the jury got into the deliberation room, several jurors, including herself, were on the fence about Jason Crawford's guilt.
Behind closed doors
Megan Brock said the jury deliberated for several hours before they asked to listen to the 911 call again. And that's what Brock said sealed the deal for the group.
"The…operator, she keeps asking [Jason Crawford]…'who shot her?'" she told "48 Hours." And when the 911 operator then questioned Crawford about where the gun was, that's when the jury came to a unanimous decision. "He clearly said, 'the gun is laying beside her," Brock said. "When in fact, the body cam footage showed her holding the gun, barely, but holding the gun."
Thirty minutes after the jury listened to the 911 call, they went back into the courtroom and delivered their verdict. The jury found Jason Crawford guilty of his wife Tiffiney's murder. "I just felt like it shouldn't be happening … I was just stunned," he told "48 Hours."
Jason Crawford's sentencing
On March 10, 2023, Jason Crawford stood before the judge again as his lawyers plead his innocence. The judge then sentenced Crawford to 99 years in prison. Under Alabama law, he will be eligible for parole in 15 years.
Today, Tiffiney's mother Cheryl McGucken wants to make sure that her grandchildren are proud of their mom. And that they never forget who Tiffiney was and what she stood for. "She was just an angel that came down from heaven for a short time to teach us all…how to love and be kind and giving," McGucken said.