CRIME

Salt Lake City man pleads guilty in husband's fire death

A Utah man pleaded guilty Tuesday to murder and arson charges in the house-fire death of his husband, a well-known Salt Lake City restaurateur and LGBT pioneer.

Prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty in exchange for the pleas from Craig Crawford, 48. He's expected to be sentenced to life in prison and a judge will decide later whether he will have the possibility of parole.

Crawford was charged with setting the couple's house on fire in May 2016, shortly after his husband John Williams, 72, filed for divorce and unsuccessfully sought a restraining order. The couple had been together for about 20 years.

Police said Crawford went outside and watered the plants while his husband screamed for help during the fire.

Crawford has gotten treatment for unspecified mental health issues since his arrest, defense attorney Jim Bradshaw told Judge Vernice Trease. He said Crawford wants to accept what he did and give closure to his husband's family.

"He has extreme remorse for the horrible act that he committed," Bradshaw said. Crawford appeared shackled in a tan jail jumpsuit with close-cropped hair and black-framed glasses. He politely answered the judge's questions about his pleas, but said little else.

Family and friends of Williams filled the courtroom, including a tearful Patty Lignell, who was his housekeeper for 20 years and said she was relieved at the guilty pleas to aggravated murder and aggravated arson.

"I was there the night before. I took John to the symphony," she said through sobs. "I told him not to go home, but he did anyway. That's when it all happened."

Williams' niece Amy Zaharis said the hearing brings her grief back to the surface, but the plea will help bring closure.