A Lancaster man was sentenced to 30 years in prison after he pleaded guilty Friday to murdering his “on-again, off-again” girlfriend last December.
Tanner Crolley, 19, also pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm during a violent crime, as well as a burglary charge from a separate incident earlier in 2013.
Crolley shot Sierra Landry, 18, once in the head on the night of Dec. 30, 2013. The pair had been in a “rocky” relationship for several years, according to both of their families.
As part of his plea deal, which was accepted by Circuit Court Judge John Hayes, Crolley will serve his sentences for all three charges concurrently and will receive credit for the 340 days he has spent in jail awaiting trial. A charge against Crolley for having a weapon while in jail was dropped as part of the plea deal.
Sixth Circuit Solicitor Doug Barfield said the deal was reached after “lots of discussion” between his office, Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office investigators, Landry’s parents, and Crolley and his attorney, Sixth Circuit Public Defender Mike Lifsey.
In court Friday, Barfield said Crolley and Landry were co-defendants in the 2013 burglary case, accused of breaking into Landry’s parents’ home and stealing an Xbox gaming system.
Barfield also described the night of Dec. 30, when Crolley asked a friend to pick Landry up from someone’s house, then bring her to the friend’s house on John Everall Road. People in the house reported hearing a “pop” outside sometime during the evening, but couldn’t see anything wrong.
Crolley then called a friend and his mother, Angie Green, and told them what he had done. That friend then called the police.
Sheriff’s deputies found Landry’s body outside the friend’s house, with a single gunshot wound to the head fired at an “intermediate range,” according to the coroner’s office.
At the direction of deputies, Green called Crolley and convinced him to turn himself in. After shooting Landry, Crolley had walked away from the friend’s house, through woods to Lee’s Store in Buford, about a mile away. He met deputies there and told them he had thrown the 9mm pistol away in the woods. It was never recovered.
Crolley told deputies that he had shot and killed Landry and left her in the yard, Barfield said, because “he figured she was dead.” Earlier that night, the couple had argued, and she had indicated she didn’t want to be in a relationship with him anymore.
“ ‘She’s not going to be with anyone else now,’ ” Barfield said, quoting from Crolley’s interview with investigators.
After the hearing, Green told reporters her son was under the influence of drugs and alcohol on the night of the shooting, and that both he and Landry both used drugs and alcohol regularly.
“There’s evidence in this case that Mr. Crolley had or has a substance abuse problem,” Barfield said during the hearing, but no toxicology was done when he was arrested, so the specifics of his substance abuse problems were not discussed during the hearing.
Landry’s parents said toxicology tests on their daughter’s body showed a small amount of marijuana in her system at the time of her death.
Crolley remained mostly silent in court, looking down and answering Judge Hayes with short sentences when addressed. After Barfield read a description of the night of Landry’s murder, Hayes asked Crolley if he agreed with the details of Barfield’s account.
“Most of them,” Crolley replied.
Family members of both Crolley and Landry spoke in court, which was full of about two dozen supporters of either Landry’s or Crolley’s families. Landry’s family wore buttons with pictures of her on them.
Robert Landry called the day his daughter was born “the best day of my life.”
Two weeks before her murder, Landry called her parents to tell them that she’d had enough of Crolley’s abuse. They picked her up, and the family was making plans to move away from the Buford area, Robert Landry said.
Throughout the case, Landry’s parents have said Crolley physically and emotionally abused their daughter.
Landry became so overwhelmed that he was unable to read his prepared statement. He pulled a small cross necklace out from under his shirt and held it up.
“All I have left is this little cross with her ashes in – that’s it,” he said. “And it’s not a fair trade for a lifetime of love (for) me and my family.”
Crolley’s mother told the judge that her son was a “good boy who just went down the wrong path.”
“I’m not here to make excuses for Tanner’s poor decisions,” Green said, “but I know my son is not the monster that everyone portrays him to be.”
Crolley’s family will be ready to welcome him when he gets out of prison, she said.
Before approving the plea deal and the 30-year sentence, Hayes called the murder “senseless.”
When you combine an immature mind, drugs, romance and teenage angst, the judge said, “you have a recipe for horrible tragedy.” But, he said, the fact that this was a societal problem did not excuse Crolley’s actions.
“We see too much of this,” Hayes said, “and too many young people die as a result of the things I just went over.”
After the sentencing, both Crolley’s and Landry’s families said they felt the outcome was as fair as it could be, given the circumstances.
In the year since Landry’s death, her family moved to the Lowcountry, although they are still advocating for “Sierra’s Law,” which would create stricter dating violence laws to protect teenagers. The proposed law would require dating violence education in public schools, which Landry’s parents say could have helped their daughter escape her relationship and might have prevented her murder.