published Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

'He needs to suffer' — 23 years later, burning death of her sister still pains woman

Staci Crozier Wooten holds a picture of her sister, Traci, on Tuesday at her home in Rossville. Leroy Hall, Traci's ex-boyfriend who was sentenced to death for her murder after he doused her in gasoline and set her on fire, has had his execution date set for 2016.
Staci Crozier Wooten holds a picture of her sister, Traci, on Tuesday at her home in Rossville. Leroy Hall, Traci's ex-boyfriend who was sentenced to death for her murder after he doused her in gasoline and set her on fire, has had his execution date set for 2016.
Photo by Doug Strickland /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
  • photo
    Traci Crozier is seen in this contributed photo. Leroy Hall, Traci's ex-boyfriend who was sentenced to death for her murder after he doused her in gasoline and set her on fire, has had his execution date set for 2016.
    Photo by Doug Strickland /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The soles of Traci Crozier's feet were the only part of her body not burned.

Her younger sister, Staci Crozier Wooten, sat by her side for hours in the hospital room. She remembers the suffering.

"She felt every bit of it," Staci said. "She was awake for 36 hours. That's what really bothers me. She knew she was going to die."

It was April 17, 1991. Traci Crozier's estranged boyfriend, Leroy Hall Jr., had filled a container with gas, stuffed a paper towel in the top, lit the fuse and thrown it on Traci as she sat in her car. It exploded, leaving Traci with second- and third-degree burns over 90 percent of her body. She died the next day, April 18.

The case riveted Chattanooga for years as it weaved through the courts. In 1992, Hall was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. He's been living on death row in Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville ever since. Last week, the Tennessee Supreme Court assigned his execution date.

Jan. 12, 2016.

Staci Crozier Wooten will be there. She's been told Hall is losing his eyesight, although the Tennessee Department of Correction does not release health information on inmates. Staci hopes he is completely blind by the time he's executed.

"So that when that juice is going in his arm, he won't even know when it is going to hit," she said. "And he has to suffer while he sits there and wonders. The longer, the better. Traci had to suffer, and now he needs to suffer."

Hall's attorney, Kelly Gleason, did not immediately return requests for comment Tuesday.

After 23 years, it's hard to remember the times before Traci died. Before Hall became abusive. The murder grabbed hold of Staci's life when she was 20 years old and never let go.

The sisters' mother, Susan Murphy, was in and out of mental hospitals for years after Traci died. Staci's been to countless counseling sessions. The pain eased as time passed. But when Murphy died about six years ago, seeing her mom lying unconscious in the hospital bed brought Staci right back to Traci's hospital room.

"That messed me up bad," Staci said. "It brought everything back."

Traci was outgoing. One of the girls that everyone liked in high school, Staci said. In her high school portrait, Traci is smiling, with wavy, shoulder-length brown hair styled with all the volume of the 1980s.

Traci lived with Hall for six years before he killed her. The first two or three years were good, Staci remembered.

"He was a pretty good guy at first," Staci said. "And then he just started beating her."

He would pick fights with Traci's relatives and friends. One day, about six weeks before Traci died, Staci was visiting Traci's home, toying with the idea of moving in with the pair because she had just separated from her husband. Then Hall walked in.

"I looked at him, and I couldn't see anything in his eyes," Staci said. "It was like looking straight through him. I told Traci, 'Leave with me. There's something wrong with him. I can't have my child here. Please leave with me.' And she said no, 'I'm not leaving my home.'"

It's a common predicament for family members of victims of domestic violence, said Charlotte Boatwright, president of the Coalition Against Domestic and Community Violence of Greater Chattanooga.

"It's really difficult being a family member of someone who is a victim of abuse, because there is nothing you can do to make that person make the choice to leave," she said. "Family members often feel like they should have been able to do something, but they can't."

Just before the murder, Traci did leave. She moved in with relatives for a little while, and was making plans to move to Florida, Staci said.

But before she could flee, she burned.

When the paramedics arrived, Traci was awake and she spoke for the last time. She was worried about how her hair looked.

"I wish I could have been there," Staci said. "To talk to her one more time."

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or sbradbury@timesfreepress.com with tips or story ideas.

about Shelly Bradbury...

Shelly Bradbury covers police and crime in Chattanooga and Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She's been with the paper since 2012, working first as an intern and then as a business reporter. She is from Houghton, New York, and graduated from Huntington University in Huntington, Indiana, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and minor in management. Before moving to Tennessee, Shelly previously interned with The Goshen News, The Sandusky Register and The Mint ...

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