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A former airline pilot who was convicted of killing his wife and feeding her body into a wood chipper has been released from prison almost two decades early.
Connecticut's Richard Crafts, now 82, was originally sentenced by a Norwalk Superior County judge to 50 years behind bars in 1990 for the murder of his Danish spouse Helle Crafts. He released from prison late last year and is currently living in a Bridgeport halfway home for veterans, a spokesperson for the state Department of Correction confirmed with Oxygen.com.
Crafts’ early release was spurred by the state's “good time” legislation. The law, which allows for considerable time to be shaved off a prisoner’s sentence due to good behavior, was struck down decades ago – however the rule still applies to inmates sentenced prior to 1994.
“That law has since been overturned,” correctional spokesperson Andrius Banevicius told Oxygen.com. “The Department of Correction doesn’t have a choice, the laws are written, and we have no choice but to follow them. If Richard Crafts were sentenced under today’s laws he would have been ineligible for any good time credits or any time off his sentence based on his offense.”
Banevicius said that Crafts earned himself two disciplinary tickets in his roughly 30 years behind bars. The spokesperson was unable to immediately confirm what the infractions were, but Connecticut newspaper the Hartford Courant reported at least one of those incidents was related to contraband. The newspaper described it as a “medium” level violation.
“Twenty years is clearly a huge sentence reduction,” Lucy Lang, director for the Institute For Innovation In Prosecution at the John Jay College Of Criminal Justice, told Oxygen.com.
Lang went on to explain that Crafts’ case poses a larger systematic question, particularly given the U.S. prison system’s rapidly aging inmate population and prospective "early bird" releases of now-geriatric violent offenders.
“This is exactly the kind of case that the criminal justice system is going to have to think really hard about,” she added. “How far do we extend the efforts to integrate principles of forgiveness and the capacity for individuals to grow and change? If that is a vision for the future system, then where do we draw the line?”
Crafts’ wife, a Danish flight attendant for Pan American World Airways, was last seen alive on Nov. 7, 1986 after returning home from an overseas flight to Frankfurt, Germany, according to the New York Times. Crafts told state police his wife was visiting a friend in the Canary Islands. However, authorities made note that the woman’s husband recently bought a freezer and a wood chipper.
When investigators began looking for her remains, Craft supposedly suggested to a relative there wasn’t anything left of his wife to find.
“Let them dive,” he told his brother-in-law, according to the Hartford Courant. “There’s nobody. It’s gone.”
The remnants of Helle Craft’s body, including bone, tissue, and dental remains – as well as an envelope bearing her name – were later found scattered near a steel bridge.
Crafts, who also worked as a part-time police officer, was arrested in 1987. Following a mistrial, the 49-year-old was convicted approximately three years later. He became the first person in Connecticut’s history to be tried in a murder case where no body was recovered, the Hartford Courant reported. Throughout his life, Crafts has maintained his innocence.
Crafts’ estimated release from the transitional housing facility is in June, corrections officials said.
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