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Christopher Crandall faces retrial in fatal bludgeoning of former lover

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Attorneys in the case of a man accused of bludgeoning his former lover and roommate to death in 2006 sparred in court Tuesday over whether he was guilty of murder or manslaughter.

The trial of Christopher Crandall, 37, is before a San Francisco Superior Court jury for a second time, after an appeals court last year tossed Crandall’s 2007 conviction for second-degree murder because of jury misconduct.

The body of Guy West, 68, was found inside West’s second-floor studio at 640 Polk St., buried under a heap of blankets in his bed, on July 27, 2006.

Crandall, who West had allowed to stay in the apartment for years, was arrested Aug. 3, 2006. After initially denying involvement, prosecutors say he later admitted to police that he struck West repeatedly in the head with a heavy glass pitcher during a late-night argument on July 17. He then allegedly stayed inside the apartment for four days as the body decomposed.

Prosecutor Linda Allen told jurors Tuesday in her opening argument that Crandall struck West so hard that he fractured his skull and neck, leaving a bloody crime scene.

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Crandall and West’s relationship had initially been sexual but later became platonic, and was characterized by repeated emotional abuse and death threats, defense attorney Sandy Feinland of the Public Defender’s Office told jurors.

“He abused Chris Crandall, treated him like a dog, for over eight years,” Feinland said.

Feinland plans to bring an expert on long-term effects of domestic violence to testify at the trial. He said Crandall suffered terrible verbal and physical abuse from his parents, was rejected by his family and kicked out of the Army when he revealed he was gay. He met West, 30 years his senior, when he was 24 years old and homeless.

“He was the perfect target for an older predator, a father figure,” Feinland said. He said Crandall finally “snapped” and killed West in the heat of passion. Feinland asked the jury to convict his client of manslaughter.

In 2010, a state appeals court ruled that jurors at Crandall’s first trial had ignored instructions not to discuss Crandall not testifying at the trial, and that some jurors pressured others for a quick verdict because two jurors were planning trips to Greece and New York.

aburack@sfexaminer.com

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