Man being retried in death of missing stepdaughter - - Tulsa, OK - News, Weather, Video and Sports - |

Man being retried in death of missing stepdaughter

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ State prosecutors may have an advantage or could face challenges in the retrial of a man whose conviction in the death of his 12-year-old stepdaughter was overturned.

An Oklahoma County jury convicted Benjamin Harry Crider II of murder in the 1996 death of Crystal Dittmeyer, but the girl has never been found.

Jury selection begins Monday in Crider's second trial, made possible when the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals threw out his 1999 conviction.

Andy Coats, dean of the University of Oklahoma College of Law, said a lack of a body presents challenges and advantages for the Oklahoma County District Attorney's office.

``You really have to have significant other evidence tying them together, the victim and the accused,'' Coats said. ``When you don't have a body, that reasonable doubt requirement becomes a significant challenge.''

However, the amount of time that has passed could make it easier for a jury to believe the girl could be dead.

The child disappeared June 13, 1996, and hasn't been seen or heard from since.

Prosecutors said Crider, a nurse with the Oklahoma Health Department, arrived home from an out-of-town seminar and found Crystal taking a shower in the master bedroom of the family's apartment.

That was a violation of Crider's strict rules, prosecutors allege.

He struck and killed the girl, then placed her body in a garment bag, carried it to his government car and disposed of it somewhere within a 50-mile radius, prosecutors allege.

Crider and the girl's mother, Tammy Austin, had been married only a few months when Crystal vanished. They divorced about a year later.

Austin testified for the prosecution at the trial, telling jurors she initially believed Crider wasn't guilty, but eventually changed her mind.

Defense attorneys argue that Crider came home and found an empty apartment, and that Crystal had run away.

The jury convicted Crider on Oct. 23, 1999, and recommended a sentence of life in prison.

``He wasn't there, he didn't do it,'' defense attorney David Autry said Friday. ``He's innocent.''

Prosecutors said a bite mark on Crider's arm was proof that there had been a struggle between him and Crystal. Forensic experts testified the bite mark came from the girl.

But the appeals court called the bite mark testimony ``junk science,'' and said Oklahoma County District Judge Tammy Bass-Jones shouldn't have allowed that and other prosecution evidence.

The conviction was overturned on a 3-to-2 vote in October 2001, and a new trial was ordered.

District Attorney Wes Lane, who tried Crider in 1999, will again prosecute the man. Bass-Jones remains the presiding judge for the re-trial, which is expected to last about four weeks.
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