Looking for closure after Springford trial

Published 4:03 pm Friday, December 5, 2008

The long wait is finally over.

Four years after the brutal murders of Brent and Charlotte Springford, former owners of the Pepsi-Cola Bottling Company in Luverne, their son, Winston Brent Springford, Jr., has been found guilty of capital murder by a Montgomery jury and will spend the rest of his life behind bars.

The sentence was handed down last Thursday evening after the short 2-day trial.

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Springford pleaded guilty last month to capital murder, and prosecutors agreed to a sentence of life in prison without parole rather than a death sentence.

During the trial, jurors heard a confession from Springford in which he admitted using an ax handle and a knife to kill his parents on Thanksgiving Day in 2004. Springford said he reacted after his father threatened to sell the home in Greeley, Colo., that he had bought for his son.

The jury also heard from his sister, Robin Springford Crouch, as a defense witness. Late Thursday evening, Crouch released a written statement:

“In November 2004, I lost the two most special people in my life. It was devastating enough to lose my parents, but to lose them at the hands of my own brother was unimaginable. Many years passed without a resolution to this tragedy, and though we have been patient with the judicial system and stoic on the outside, our family has been more than ready to see justice served. Today we finally received some closure in that we feel the person responsible for it all is being held accountable for what he did. Although I feel he deserves the same fate he afforded my parents, our family does take comfort in knowing that he will no longer be able to harm anyone else.”

Former Alabama Chief Justice and Luverne resident Terry Butts said that Charlotte Turner Springford was two years ahead of him at Luverne High School. She was the head cheerleader, and he played football.

“Charlotte was one of the most vibrant, outgoing, and prettiest girls you ever saw, coupled with brains,” Butts said. “You knew she was going to be successful in life—she was the same person to everybody, just vivacious and friendly.”

Butts remembered that her parents, the late George and Dee Turner, had opened the Pepsi Cola Bottling Company behind The Budget Shop in downtown Luverne when he was in grammar school.

“I won one of the metal coolers during their grand opening, which was a big prize in that day,” he said. “Mr. George and Mrs. Dee Turner were very friendly.”

“The sad thing is that Charlotte lost her parents tragically in a house fire, and she and her husband lost their lives in this tragic event, so it’s been such a heavy loss—I know that the city of Luverne feels like the Turners and the Springfords belonged to them.”

When it came to the legal proceedings in Brent, Jr.’s case, Butts was not a part of it; however, he has been through similar cases.

“Personally, as a judge having tried capital cases and having sentenced people to death before, it’s never an easy thing,” he noted.

“Apparently, that trial was delayed because of the continual testing to see if Brent, Jr., was competent to stand trial. He was declared competent on both times. And another delay was due to forensics not being back because there is such a backlog of waiting on the state.”

Springford had tried unsuccessfully to plead not guilty by reason of mental defect, but that did not come to fruition.

“It would be my guess that the defendant, on the advice of his attorneys, would plead guilty to life without parole in order to avoid the death penalty,” Butts said. “If this trial had gone forward, it’s clear he would have received the death penalty, and then 20 years could have gone by because of appeals before he may have ever received his judgment and execution. In this way, at least there is some chance for the family to receive some kind of closure. And it does mean life without parole – that means exactly what it says. Brent Springford, Jr., will die in prison.”

Montgomery County District Attorney Ellen Brooks said that Springford gave details that “only the killer could know.”

“In his last statement, he gave two different versions of what happened,” Brooks explained. “In the last version, he indicated that he waited upstairs in order to ambush his parents—that was the more logical version—and he also claimed that he talked to his parents first in the kitchen.”

Brooks said the evidence against Springford was great.

“We know that he bought gloves on his bus trip from Colorado to Montgomery and that he wore a hood,” she said. “He took a pick ax and chopped off the head of it, fashioned it into a blunt weapon, and took it inside. Plus, he figured out how to get inside the house without setting the alarms off.”

Springford had claimed that his reason for the retaliation against his parents was because they had supposedly turned against him, including making the threat to sell his Colo. home.

“Brent and Charlotte Springford did not turn against their son,” Brooks said. “He kept lying to his parents saying that he wasn’t able to work, when actually he had a job making $30,000 a year….and, he had a wife that no one knew about and he kept asking them to send extra money which turned out to be for his wife’s children’s education. He took complete advantage of them, and if they questioned him, he took it as a rebuff and would tell them they would regret it and would threaten them.”

“He first offered to plead guilty for a lesser sentence of life, but that would mean the he could come up for parole, and I wasn’t going to put the family through that,” Brooks said. “Not to mention putting their very safety at risk should he be released.”

“Months later, he then said he’d plead guilty to life without the possibility of parole, and we discussed it with the family, and everyone agreed to it,” she explained.

Judge Terry Butts hopes that the family can now, in some way, go on with their lives.

“I have met and been around Greg Crouch, Charlotte’s son-in-law, a great deal because he comes to Luverne frequently, and I’ve met their daughter Robin. You couldn’t find two more personable people anywhere, and I know that Luverne feels the same way about Greg and Robin as they did about Brent and Charlotte. They were and still are the epitome of class and gentility.”