59ºF

Family of murder victim still owed restitution

Court records show Barry Crawford was sick, couldn't pay all he owed

HOUSTON – The day Tonya Hardin's brother, Steven, was murdered was surprisingly not the hardest day of her life.

To Hardin, the day her brother's murderer was convicted and then sentenced to probation was just as bad.

Hardin remembers her brother fondly.

"He was like my best friend. He was just a lot of fun," she said.

Back when Barry Crawford was convicted, probation was an allowed sentence for murder.

According to court documents, on April 17, 1998, Steven showed up to tow Crawford's vehicle away.

"When my brother came out from under the truck, Barry shot my brother once in the heart and killed him,” Hardin said.

Crawford claimed he killed in self-defense.

A judge gave Crawford strict probation requirements and ordered him to pay Steven's family about $16,000 in restitution.

But when you ask Hardin if Crawford ever paid the family all the money it was supposed to receive? Her reply, "No, he never did."

But somehow, it didn't matter.

Crawford -- who never went to jail in the first place -- walked away a free man once his probation term expired.

Andy Kahan fights for victims' rights on behalf of the city of Houston. Kahan said situations like the Hardins' add injury to insult for the families.

"It's like being sucker-punched," Kahan said. "When you find out they aren't in compliance and there are no repercussions for their actions, your faith in the justice system just skews."

Crawford's court records show he was sick and that's why he couldn't pay all he owed. Kahan said everyone has an excuse.

Channel 2 Investigates wanted to find out how many times criminals are allowed off probation still owing money, but it turns out it's not tracked. We were told we'd have to read through thousands of court files to get accurate numbers.

Dr. Teresa May, the Harris County Community Supervision director, said they do a good job of collecting on open cases.

"I don't see people get let off, I will tell you that," May said.

Last year they recovered $5 million for victims. But for those criminals who won't pay, state law is not on victims' side. Judges can't keep criminals on probation indefinitely.

"They are set on community supervision for a set period of time depending on the type and case circumstances," May said. "There are only so many exceptions that a judge can grant. After all that is exhausted, there is nothing more than can be done."

But other states have done something, Kahan said, and he faults Texas for not being as tough on crime.

"In Kansas, a victim's family is actually allowed to participate in looking at an offender's assets. In Arizona you can be extended on probation. Same thing in California -- until you pay it," Kahan said.

Tonya's family did get a few thousand dollars from Crawford, but 18 years after her brother's killing, she knows collecting more is unlikely.

"It's not about the money because the money is not going to bring my brother's life back -- it's justice,” Hardin said. "His probation should have been revoked."

If you're a victim of crime and you're owned money by a criminal and haven't received it, I'd like to know about it and possibly follow up on your case. Email us at investigates@click2houston.com.