An Alstead man whose flight from police last week sparked a six-hour manhunt was ordered held without bail at his arraignment Monday on nine felony charges, including aggravated felonious sexual assault, second-degree assault and witness tampering.
James D. “J.D.” Crawford, 32, declined court-appointed representation and appeared without a lawyer in Cheshire County Superior Court. Pleas of not guilty were entered on his behalf.
The charges mostly stem from two days this spring, when Crawford is alleged to have broken a teenage girl’s jaw and then sexually assaulted her about a month later.
The girl, whom Crawford knew, said Crawford beat her and forced himself on her that night, and that he and his wife, Jennifer Ritchie, had pressured her to lie to police about it, according to a police affidavit filed in court.
Ritchie, 37, of Alstead, was also arraigned Monday. She faces two charges of witness tampering, a felony; and one count of endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor. She pleaded not guilty and was held without bail.
Crawford and Ritchie were arrested Friday in Alstead after police stopped their vehicle. Ritchie was taken into custody immediately, but Crawford fled on foot and was not apprehended for several hours, according to N.H. State Police. The search prompted schools in Alstead, Acworth and Langdon to go into “secure campus” mode as a precaution.
According to the affidavit, written by N.H. State Police Trooper William Neilsen, the investigation began the morning of May 1, when police received a call about a girl who had been walking along a roadway, naked except for a blue tarp she had wrapped herself in, Neilsen wrote.
The caller said she appeared to have been beaten, and police later documented black eyes, bruises and scrapes on her legs and arms, and what looked like a belt mark on her back, Neilsen wrote. Security footage from a neighbor’s house showed her fleeing the home Ritchie and Crawford were in around midnight, according to the affidavit.
The girl initially said a stranger had forced her into his pickup, attacked her and torn off her clothes after she left the house, but later told investigators that Crawford hit her and then raped her, as Ritchie watched without intervening, according to the affidavit. She said she escaped after Crawford told her to go to the kitchen to get an icepack for her face, then hid in the woods overnight, Neilsen wrote. She said Ritchie invented the story about the abduction and told her to tell that to police, according to the affidavit.
The girl also said Crawford had punched her in the jaw a month earlier and then pressured her to lie about how it happened, according to Neilsen.
Crawford has a criminal history that includes convictions for domestic violence and felony criminal restraint, the latter from a 2017 case in which he scratched a girlfriend in the face, hit her head against a window, headbutted her and grabbed her by the leg and hair, according to a police affidavit.
Crawford was also charged with aggravated felonious sexual assault in 2016, in a case that alleged he raped a woman in Alstead, but prosecutors dropped the charges later that year. The court file contains no explanation for the dismissal. Crawford had pleaded not guilty in that case.
In court Monday, Ritchie’s lawyer, Monique Schmidt, said her client’s alleged actions came in the context of her relationship with Crawford, “an imposing, intimidating, and threatening figure.”
“You don’t have to read between the lines too much to see that she’s afraid of him, too,” Schmidt said in court Monday.
Judge David W. Ruoff denied Ritchie’s request for bail. “The court remains concerned about what it perceives as the defendant’s attempts to manipulate the investigation and the victim in this case,” he said.
The months-long investigation culminated last week, when state troopers began surveilling Crawford and Ritchie Thursday night, according to the affidavit. When police pulled them over in a pickup truck on Route 123 the following morning, Crawford stepped out of the truck and put his hands up, but then fled on foot through a field and across a small river, Neilsen wrote.
State troopers, aided by a helicopter, a K9 unit and officers from Alstead, Walpole and the N.H. Fish and Game Department, searched wooded parts of Alstead, East Alstead and South Acworth for the next several hours, according to a news release from N.H. State Police.
A State Police dog, Storm, eventually apprehended Crawford along Old Settler’s Road in East Alstead around 2:45 p.m., according to the affidavit. A dispatcher called in an ambulance for Crawford, mentioning a dog bite. He also appeared to be suffering from having spent hours outside in the chilly weather, Neilsen wrote in the affidavit.
In addition to the felony charges, Crawford was charged with resisting arrest, a misdemeanor.
In court Monday, Crawford called the assault allegations “hearsay” and tried to explain why he fled Friday’s traffic stop.
“When I ran from the cops, it’s not because the cops said, ‘Passenger, please get out of the vehicle and let us arrest you — ,’ ” he began.
“Mr. Crawford, I’m just gonna give you a little warning,” the judge interjected, pointing out that he was about to discuss facts that could be used against Crawford on a pending charge. “... Everything you’re telling me right now is arguably incriminating in some way.”
“What I’m saying, your honor, is I did not run out of [being] scared to be arrested,” Crawford continued. “I ran because there were four police officers behind us with all their guns aimed at my head. And, yes, I thought I was going to be killed right there. I had no idea what I was under arrest for.”
Minutes later, Ruoff again advised him to find an attorney. “You’re basically looking at the rest of your life at state prison if you’re convicted of all these things,” he said.