Stephen Craven was a good family man. Many people viewed him as a role model.
On Sunday mornings he and his wife Adele could be found welcoming the faithful at the Vineyard Christian Church. The couple met in California when Stephen was serving as a pilot with the United States Coast Guard. They married in 1989. Three years later they moved to Edgewood, Kentucky, just south of Cincinnati, Ohio. In the intervening years Stephen had moved on from the Coast Guard. He was now employed as a pilot by Delta Air Lines. Adele had adopted the role of stay-at-home mother, so that she could raise the couple’s two sons.
Otherwise she was a licensed mortician.
The relationship looked ideal. However, as with so many marriages, outward appearances could be deceptive. Not that there appeared to be any major problems. According to Adele, Stephen would complain about her weight and spending habits while she found him inflexible. But Stephen was making an effort to change his ways. He had sought counselling to improve their family life. His goals were recorded in a binder kept in their home. Beside ‘Husband’ he had written:
Lift up and compliment Adele. Her love and partnership make her the most important person in my life. Encourage her growth and independence. Provide Adele the security of unconditional love. Always be courteous and seek her wise counsel. Engage Adele in every level of planning.
What Stephen did not know, though, was that Adele was no longer interested in the marriage -she had found another man. He was red-headed Russell ‘Rusty’ McIntire, a 32-year-old baggage handler with Delta Air Lines. Rusty was married with children. He supplemented his modest salary by working as a handyman. Rusty and Adele met in the spring of 2000, after he was hired to remodel the basement of the Craven house. It wasn’t long before the relationship between the housewife and the handyman became sexual. On the first day of June they were caught having sex in the parking lot of St Pius X Catholic Church, not far from Rusty’s Erlanger, Kentucky home. By this time, Adele and Rusty had already begun discussing ways in which Stephen might be killed. Bike trails, his boat and the house were all considered as possible murder sites.
A NEW FRIEND
Incredibly, Stephen thought he had found a new friend in Rusty. The two men spent time together, including a boating excursion that took place on 8 June. The very next day, Rusty and Adele met up with Ronald Scott Pryor, a 33-year-old car washer at an Erlanger bowling alley. Although they hoped Pryor would murder Stephen, it took a few days to bring him around to the idea. Pryor finally accepted the job during a telephone conversation with Adele on 11 June, in which she offered to pay him $15,000 for the killing. The next morning, the 38-year-old pilot was beaten and shot to death in the very basement that he had hired Rusty to renovate.
Adele told the police that she and her children had arrived home from shopping to find the house unlocked. She had called for help after coming across her husband’s bludgeoned body lying face down in the basement. Detectives worked at impressive speed to solve the case, but there was never much doubt that Adele was involved in the murder. She was arrested and charged nine days after the event. On 28 July, Rusty was also arrested and charged with murder. Pryor remained at liberty for another day, but he too was then apprehended.
In spite of the speed at which the detectives had worked, Adele’s case did not come to court until 28 October 2002. Much had happened in the 27 months since she had been arrested. In a separate trial, Pryor had already been found guilty of murdering Stephen. The jury had recommended that he should receive the death penalty. Worse still, Rusty had pleaded guilty to his part in the crime. What is more, he had agreed to testify against his former lover in order to avoid the death penalty. Rusty was now the prosecution’s star witness.
A DAMNING ACCOUNT
The prosecution opened its case against Adele by painting the most gruesome picture of Stephen Craven’s final moments. Adele had lured Stephen into the basement by telling him that the family’s pet ferret had escaped its cage. When he went to investigate Pryor leapt out from behind a couch, crowbar in hand. The contracted killer delivered a blow that knocked Stephen to the floor. As he lay there the beating continued. But despite receiving twelve blows to the head with the crowbar, he did not die. When Adele saw that Stephen was still alive she produced her husband’s .38 calibre revolver and ordered Pryor to shoot him with it. A bullet was fired into Stephen’s brain – and still the pilot did not die. Adele reloaded the gun, gave it back to the hit man and told him to fire another two shots into Stephen’s body.
The prosecution claimed that Adele had wanted to be rid of her husband. At first, she had hoped that he might die in a plane crash, so that she could benefit from his $500,000 life insurance policy. But she seemed to have realized that having her husband killed would achieve the same purpose. On the other hand, the defence put forward a scenario in which hiring Pryor had been Rusty’s idea alone. Adele had nothing whatsoever to do with the killing, it was argued. The baggage handler was portrayed as a heavy drinker who had become obsessed with the airline pilot’s wife. Rusty had stalked her, spied on her and eventually seduced her. Then when Adele had decided to end the relationship, he had hired a hit man to kill Stephen. He saw him as a rival for her affections.
Adele took the stand in her own defence. Her testimony lasted for a total of 14 hours, spread over two days. She acknowledged that her marriage had not been a perfect one, but she had loved Stephen – there was no way she would ever kill her husband.
‘Rusty implicated me to save his own skin,’ she said. ‘He is betraying me.’
The accused woman did not deny that she had talked to her neighbours about hiring a hit man to kill her husband, but said it had been nothing more than a joke.
‘I said, “Do you guys know where I can hire a hit man?” They laughed. I said, “No, Steve really pissed me off.” It became a joke after that. I know I said it at least one more time out of anger. I never meant it. I never meant it.’
On 4 December, the state prosecutors and the defence took ten hours to make their closing arguments. After being sequestered for the evening, the jury began their deliberations on 5 December.
On the following day they returned to the courtroom. The foreman of the jury announced that they could not reach a verdict. Eight jury members wanted to find Adele ‘not guilty’, while three others thought that she should receive the death sentence sought by the state. The final jury member was unable to come to a conclusion at all.
A second trial began on 12 January 2004, in Lexington. But this time there was a significant difference – the hit man had agreed to speak in order to avoid a death sentence. Pryer’s testimony was detailed, damning and convincing and it supported the prosecution in every way. Faced with this testimony, Adele saw only one way out. Some days later she pleaded guilty to one count of complicity to murder. The pilot’s wife received a life sentence but she will be eligible for parole in 2024.