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Man in debt said to plot shooting

Mail carrier's attacker wanted prison, police say

SNELLVILLE, Ga. -- Earl Lazenby had delivered mail for years to the brown home with overgrown plants in the yard and a National Rifle Association sticker on the front door.

The home's owner was always friendly, sometimes chatting with Lazenby at the grocery store in this Atlanta suburb.

But Lazenby did not know that William Crutchfield was deep in debt and looking for a way out. Crutchfield apparently watched with envy as Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph was headed to prison for life, and he aspired to the same fate -- allowing him to live off the government while behind bars.

So he allegedly hatched a plan: To kill a federal employee.

Two weeks ago, Crutchfield walked down his driveway carrying a .380-caliber pistol, and greeted his mail carrier at the curb. He then opened fire on Lazenby, drove to the police station in his Chevrolet Cavalier, and told the secretary: ''I just shot the letter carrier."

''He took his mail and then said, 'Hello' -- and then just started shooting," Lazenby said from his hospital bed Tuesday. ''He just casually got in his car and drove away."

Lazenby was shot seven times, once in the arm and six times in the abdomen. A neighbor heard shots, came outside, and called 911 as the 52-year-old grandfather lay in the grass of a nearby lawn thinking he might die.

When Lazenby came out of surgery hours later, he learned that he had suffered extensive damage -- 29 holes in his colon and intestines, shattered bones in his arm. He would live, but he will never be able to digest food or produce insulin by himself.

Meanwhile, Crutchfield was telling police his motive. It had nothing to do with Lazenby, he reportedly said, but rather a way out of medical debt.

On television, Crutchfield followed the case of Rudolph, who pleaded guilty this spring in an agreement that will send him to prison for life. Crutchfield wanted the same fate.

''He was saying that he wanted to be cared for by the federal government, that he was in poor health and wanted to be taken care of," Atlanta postal inspector Tracey Jefferson said.

Crutchfield, a 60-year-old electrical contractor who lived alone, claimed $90,000 in medical debts for an unspecified ailment and feared losing his home, another postal inspector testified at his preliminary hearing.

''He felt that it was better to be in federal prison than out on the street," said the postal inspector, Jessica Wagner.

The Postal Inspection Service is the lead investigating agency in the case. Because the victim was a postal carrier, that agency has jurisdiction. Gwinnett County police are referring calls to postal officials.

At Crutchfield's first court appearance, he asked twice to plead guilty before even being assigned a public defender. ''I'd like to get to where I'm going and start doing my time," he told the judge.

At a second appearance, his lawyer did not request bond, and Crutchfield remains in jail on a complaint of attempting to kill a federal employee. Crutchfield did not respond to an interview request on the advice of his lawyer, Suzanne Hashimi, who said: ''He's already talked quite a bit already."

Lazenby's wife, Colleen Lazenby, said survivalist gear had been found in Crutchfield's home and that he apparently admired Rudolph.

''He saw that Eric Rudolph was being well taken care of after committing a federal crime, so he thought he'd just go ahead and commit one, and he'd be taken care of, with three meals a day and shelter," she said.

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