New trial starts for students murders

By Gus Bode

A Herrin man accused of murdering an SIUC student in April 1999 began his second trial Wednesday.

Steven M. Crutchfield, 33, was tried and convicted in October 1999 for the first-degree murder of Michael Sasso, a 20-year-old SIUC student, but the conviction was overturned by an appellate court because the judge did not inform the jury that a second-degree murder conviction was an option.

Prosecuting Attorney Charles Garnati said he is still seeking a first-degree murder conviction. He said in court he intends to prove the murder was pre-meditated because “jealousy is what this case is about.”


Garnati said the defendant planned out the weapons to use and the method of approach when he drove to the home of his ex-wife.

Tracie Teffertiller, 29, Crutchfield’s ex-wife, met Sasso in a class at SIUC.

Teffertiller’s testimony detailed the events of the night of the murder and the events that led up to it. Teffertiller told the court about abuse by Crutchfield in 1998 and a friendship with Sasso that developed into an affair. Teffertiller was granted a restraining order against Crutchfield in March 1999 but continued some contact with Crutchfield. Teffertiller said the contact deteriorated after Crutchfield tried to get into her house by removing a screen on the bedroom window late at night while she and Sasso were in bed.

Teffertiller testified that Crutchfield broke open the locked front door to Teffertiller’s Herrin residence and was holding a knife and screwdriver. Teffertiller said she was unable to call 911 because her phone was dead and police later testified the phone box on the side of the house had been opened and wires had been pried away. Teffertiller said she tried to use her cellular phone, but Crutchfield grabbed it away and threw it to the ground. She said Crutchfield then grabbed her by the hair and threw her to the ground.

She said Sasso tried to intervene, and Crutchfield turned his attention to Sasso. Teffertiller said Crutchfield was coming after Sasso with a knife, but Teffertiller slowed him down.

“I had my arms around his neck so whenever he moved he dragged me with him,” Teffertiller said.

Teffertiller said she unsuccessfully tried to grab the knife, then stood between Crutchfield and Sasso. She said her daughter was awakened by the commotion and began pulling onto her robe.


She told him her daughter was there and he needed to calm down but Crutchfield then said, “it didn’t matter because we’re all gonna die tonight.”

Teffertiller said she let go of Crutchfield and grabbed her daughter, and Crutchfield tackled Sasso. The two men wrestled in the dining room, but Sasso repeatedly freed himself until they were in the living room and Crutchfield was stabbing Sasso.

Teffertiller said she was still holding her daughter but was able to pull Crutchfield back by the shirt, allowing Sasso to escape. Sasso stumbled out the door and tried to walk to the neighbor’s house.

Tammy Woolard, Teffertiller’s neighbor, testified that Sasso was doubled over and was completely covered in blood. Woolard’s husband had already called the police when Sasso made it to her yard.

Sasso died in the hospital hours later.

Marion police found Crutchfield during the early morning hours of April 4.

The prosecution is expected to finish its case today and the trial is expected to end Friday.