Ex-Columbus football star pleads to child molestation involving 12-year-old girl

Justin Kenyuno Crawford once appeared headed to a career in professional football, after the star running back from Columbus’ Hardaway High School played for West Virginia University and later signed with the Atlanta Falcons.

Now he’s headed to prison, at age 23, after pleading guilty Tuesday to child molestation and sodomy.

Crawford was cut from the Falcons’ roster on Sept. 1, 2018. On Oct. 13, he was arrested for having sex with a 12-year-old girl.

On Tuesday, the father of three was in Muscogee Superior Court, where he agreed to a plea deal in which prosecutors dropped three felony charges that included aggravated child molestation, for which the penalty was 25 years to life.

Instead Judge Gil McBride sentenced Crawford to 20 years in prison with 12 to serve, and the rest on probation. The judge ordered Crawford also to register as a sex offender, to have no contact with the victim or her family, and to stay away from anyone younger than 18, including his own children.

Defense attorney Michael Eddings said Crawford had a “very gross moral departure” when he became depressed after losing his shot at a position with the Falcons because of an injury. Though that does not excuse his conduct, it does explain his “mental state,” Eddings said.

The guilt will stick with him from now on, the attorney said: “He’s going to carry this for the rest of his life.”

Crawford spoke only briefly Tuesday, apologizing to his family and to the victim and her parents.

During Crawford’s preliminary hearing on Oct. 15, Detective Mark Scruggs testified that Crawford’s wife told police she walked into her living room about 5 a.m. and saw Crawford exposing himself in front of the 12-year-old.

Crawford immediately ran from the room while covering himself, she told officers.

She said Crawford afterward denied any wrongdoing, and told her he ran because she startled him.

Later the wife took the child to the girl’s mother, who asked the girl what happened. The child then reported she had been sleeping in the living room when Crawford woke her, had her give him oral sex and then had intercourse with her, Scruggs said.

Tim Chitwood is from Seale, Ala., and started as a police beat reporter with the Ledger-Enquirer in 1982. He since has covered Columbus’ serial killings and other homicides, following some from the scene of the crime to trial verdicts and ensuing appeals. He also has been a Ledger-Enquirer humor columnist since 1987. He’s a graduate of Auburn University, and started out working for the weekly Phenix Citizen in Phenix City, Ala.