20200227-LOC-Crawford

James D. Crawford, 32, of Alstead, holds a stack of papers during a conference Wednesday in Cheshire County Superior Court in Keene.

An Alstead man accused of beating and sexually assaulting a teenage girl is scheduled to stand trial in April, while he continues to represent himself in court.

James D. “J.D.” Crawford, 32, appeared in Cheshire County Superior Court in Keene Wednesday morning to discuss scheduling in his case.

Crawford has been held at the Cheshire County jail since his Jan. 13 arraignment on multiple felony charges, including aggravated felonious sexual assault, second-degree assault and witness tampering.

Prosecutors allege Crawford raped a teenage girl he knew and broke her jaw last spring, and then threatened her with retribution if she spoke to police. He has pleaded not guilty and has claimed the allegations are invented.

When officers tried to arrest him and his wife, Jennifer Ritchie, 37, in Alstead last month, Crawford fled, setting off a six-hour manhunt, police said at the time. (Ritchie, who has pleaded not guilty, is charged with witness tampering and endangering the welfare of a child.)

On Jan. 31, Judge David W. Ruoff issued an order allowing Crawford to represent himself.

Crawford has filed a flurry of handwritten motions from jail, accusing authorities of malfeasance and calling for investigations into the court system and county jail.

He also says he has been denied access to a law library, which he needs to research and prepare for trial.

In a Feb. 10 letter to Crawford, Richard N. Van Wickler, superintendent of the Cheshire County jail, wrote that he was working on making an electronic law library system available.

“We are working on getting you a complete up to date library resource,” Van Wickler wrote in the letter, which was filed in court. “I have asked that this be expedited. We are at the mercy of the vendor.” He wrote that the jail had ordered the system and it would be available “no later than 4 weeks” from then.

Van Wickler was not immediately reachable to comment on the status of the law library.

Ruoff said Wednesday that the jail should be making the resource available right away. “If that proceeds another 10 or 30 days that you don’t have access to legal research, then let me know,” he told Crawford.

When it came to setting a trial date, prosecutor Keith W. Clouatre suggested June, saying that would give the court enough time to weigh Crawford’s requests for additional documents.

Crawford insisted on April, even after being warned it would limit his ability to file pretrial motions and seek the additional documents. “I’m ready to go,” he said.

Ruoff set jury selection for April 13.

Wednesday’s court appearance, which lasted about a half hour, was supposed to be limited to scheduling issues, but Crawford tried to air various allegations and grievances.

He complained that Clouatre and the jail were “taking” mail from him. Clouatre said he had done no such thing. After reviewing a communication from the jail, Ruoff said staff there had intercepted letters from Crawford’s mother to him and Ritchie, who is also being held, to make sure they didn’t violate a no-contact order between him and his mother.

“I issued the no-contact order because there were jail calls where there was clear evidence that you were trying to enlist another person to witness tamper,” Ruoff said.

Crawford later accused Ruoff, without evidence, of “committing the acts of perjury and falsification of evidence.”

Ruoff has previously warned Crawford that while he has the right to represent himself, it carries risks, especially in a case where he faces potentially decades in prison.

He repeated the advice Wednesday, after Crawford asserted that his acting as his own lawyer “pisses you guys off.”

The judge responded that it didn’t bother him at all. “I think it’s a bad move on your part.”

Paul Cuno-Booth can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1409, or pbooth@keenesentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter

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