Despite two days of court testimony featuring 18 witnesses, dozens of exhibits and seven attorneys, the question of whether Terence Crutcher was married in the eyes of Oklahoma law remains unanswered.
But one thing was clear following the hearing: The extended family is now deeply divided in a way that was painful to watch unfold in court.
Tulsa District Judge Kurt Glassco will rule in December on whether Crutcher’s 16-year relationship with Frenchel Johnson qualifies as a common-law marriage in Oklahoma. The couple had three children together and Crutcher raised Johnson’s son, now 17, as his own.
Crutcher’s parents, the Rev. Joey and Leanna Crutcher, are contesting Johnson’s request to be designated administrator of his estate.
If Glassco rules Johnson was Crutcher’s common-law wife, she stands to inherit half of his estate, including any proceeds from a civil lawsuit over his death. Until a decision is made, an attorney appointed by the court will oversee the estate, including about $150,000 raised in a GoFundMe account.
Terence Crutcher died Sept. 16 after he was shot by a Tulsa police officer who came upon his SUV parked in the middle of a north Tulsa street.
Police video shows Terence Crutcher walking slowly away from the officer with his hands up before he was shot. The officer, Betty Shelby, has been charged with first-degree manslaughter and a plea of not guilty has been entered.
The issue of who had control of a GoFundMe account, which had raised more than $167,000 intended to benefit Terence Crutcher’s immediate family, arose during Wednesday’s hearing.
When the account was initially made, funds were to be sent to the Terence Crutcher estate in care of Benjamin Crump, a Florida-based attorney who has said he represents the family.
When Johnson’s attorney, Dan Smolen, notified the attorneys to stop claiming they represent the estate, the GoFundMe account was changed to state the funds should be sent to Tiffany Crutcher, who lives in Alabama.
During Wednesday’s hearing, Glassco ordered Tiffany Crutcher to hand over the collected funds to the estate. Glassco told Tulsa attorney Austin Bond, interim special administrator, to take steps to obtain the funds, including bringing in the U.S. Attorney’s Office if necessary.
Though the account originally had more than $167,000 in it, Tiffany Crutcher testified Wednesday that when she transferred the funds to her own bank account, GoFundMe collected a percentage of the donations. The accout now holds about $150,000, she said.
Tiffany Crutcher testified no money has been spent out of the account. She said the funds were intended to be used to help the children and be used in the “pursuit of justice” for Terence Crutcher.
After Glassco’s order to hand over the account to the estate, Damario Solomon-Simmons, attorney for Terence Crutcher’s parents, said the issue was resolved and bringing in the U.S. Attorney’s Office wouldn’t be necessary.
Unlike the first day of the hearing, attorneys for Crutcher’s parents used largely testimony from family members Wednesday. During Tuesday’s hearing, the attorneys frequently pointed to government documents, such as tax and medical forms, wherein Terence Crutcher listed he was single.
Terence Crutcher’s twin sister, Tiffany Crutcher, was the first witness to take the stand at Wednesday’s hearing, focusing on where her brother lived and whether he ever presented himself as married.
Tiffany Crutcher said her family takes marriage seriously and holds it in high regard. Her parents have been married for almost 40 years.
She said her brother was never married to Johnson, and she would have known if he was because they had a tight-knit family.
Tiffany Crutcher also argued the couple wasn’t exclusive. She recalled her twin having another girlfriend in 2005, who lived with Terence Crutcher and their parents for about a year. Her brother also had an on-again, off-again relationship with another woman up until his death, she said.
Similar to the first day of the hearing, attorneys referenced posts the couple made on Facebook.
Solomon-Simmons pointed out a photo Johnson posted in 2015 with the caption “Pic of my husband and I.”
Tiffany Crutcher told the court she was familiar with the photo and asked her twin about it. She said her brother told her “I’m not marrying that girl.”
Attorneys for Joey and Leanna Crutcher also brought up several times Johnson didn’t used the Crutcher name until after Terence Crutcher died.
Joey and Tiffany Crutcher both testified the first time they saw her use Johnson-Crutcher name was on TV during a press conference with Johnson’s attorney.
“We were blown away,” Tiffany Crutcher said.
It added another level of stress and mislead the public to believe the couple was married, she said.
Though the couple got engaged in 2012, he never planned on marrying Johnson, Tiffany Crutcher said.
She said her twin didn’t think he and Johnson were compatible and felt pressured by his father to get married.
Joey Crutcher testified he didn’t consider the couple to be married but believed his son should have married Johnson because it was the right thing to do.
“If you have kids, you should be married,” he said during Wednesday’s hearing. “It should be done according to God’s will.”
As a minister, it was embarrassing to preach about the sanctity of marriage when his own son wasn’t following the teachings, he said.
During cross examination, Joey Crutcher admitted he called Johnson his daughter-in-law and said she was married to his son for 16 years in a recording made during a meeting in Smolen’s law office on Sept. 23.
He also admitted to asking whether he could put Johnson on his son’s death certificate as his wife and asking Smolen about Oklahoma’s law regarding common-law marriage.
Joey Crutcher testified he meant the couple was “spiritually married,” and he felt deceived because he didn’t know he was being recorded. He admitted several times on the stand to lying, either during his deposition or in various conversations about the case.
“Sometimes you have to lie when people deceive you, even when you’re a reverend,” he told Smolen.
When his son proposed to Johnson in 2012, Joey Crutcher said he was thrilled. But when Terence Crutcher told his father weeks later he didn’t intend on marrying her, Joey Crutcher said he felt “disgusted and disappointed.”
“I started calling Frenchel my daughter-in-law when they got engaged out of respect,” he said.
Smolen called three witnesses Wednesday, who all spoke of Terence Crutcher’s relationship with Johnson.
Dynisha Morgan testified she grew close to Terence Crutcher during an English class she had with him this semester at Tulsa Community College. The two sat next to each other and were partners on projects, Morgan said.
The class was assigned an essay, but Terence Crutcher accidentally did the wrong assignment and wrote a handwritten essay over the story of his life. When Morgan told Terence Crutcher he did it wrong, he still wanted her to read it.
Morgan said Terence Crutcher wrote about how he wanted to be a better father to his kids and a better husband to his wife of more than 10 years.
She said he was hilarious, came from a church family and loved God. Morgan said he told her he didn’t want to become another police statistic.
Two other close friends of the couple, Aneishia Anderson and Carl Joseph, also testified Wednesday to how Terence Crutcher and Johnson presented themselves as a couple.
Anderson said the couple called each other husband and wife after Terence Crutcher proposed in 2012 and he never rejected Johnson was his wife.
Joseph, who said Terence Crutcher was his best friend since elementary school, told the court the two presented themelves as part of a family and were good parents.
He said Terence Crutcher knew Johnson considered him her husband.
During closing statements, Solomon-Simmons stressed there needs to be a mutual agreement between the couple that they are married in order to establish a common-law marriage. He said there’s “zero evidence” Terence Crutcher consented.
Solomon-Simmons argued Crutcher didn’t present himself publicly as married to Johnson, and the two chose to list themselves as single on government documents.
In Smolen’s final arguments, he pointed to the testimony of two attorneys who said the couple considered themselves married, the engraved wedding ring Crutcher gave Johnson, testimony of a landlord and statements by people other than direct family members with something to gain by their testimony.
Smolen said the couple was together for 16 years and presented themselves to the community as married, citing testimony from the couple’s friends.
“They had a beautiful family,” Smolen said. “Just like any other relationship, they had their ups and downs. But they stuck through it, and that’s more than a lot of people can say.”