Craig Crawford, 48, admitted starting the fire at the four-story house he shared with John Williams, 72, in 2016

By Chris Harris
June 28, 2017 04:55 PM


A Salt Lake City, Utah man could be sentenced to life in prison next month after admitting in court Tuesday to setting a 2016 house fire that killed his estranged husband, a well-known restauranteur and an advocate for LGBT rights, PEOPLE confirms.

Craig Crawford, 48, admitted starting the fire at the four-story house he shared with John Williams a little more than a year ago, a court official tells PEOPLE.

Crawford said that he started the fire on the home’s second floor and officials believe Williams, 72, became trapped in the home after the staircase collapsed.

According to court officials, Crawford pleaded guilty to aggravated murder and aggravated arson and will not face the death penalty, thanks to a plea deal orchestrated by the prosecution.

The fire — started shortly after 1 a.m. on May 22, 2016 — raged for hours, engulfing the entire house.

Williams died from smoke inhalation, according to the results of his autopsy.

Crawford will be sentenced next month; he faces life in prison, but at issue is whether he will ever be eligible for parole.

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Court officials tell PEOPLE prosecutors argued that Crawford set the fire within days of learning Williams was planning to divorce him.

The couple married in 2009 and had been together some 20 years.

Responding firefighters could hear Williams’ pleas for help, but could not reach him in time to save his life.

According to investigators, a neighbor called 911 to report the home was on fire. After hanging up the phone, the neighbor claims she was approached by Crawford, who calmly invited her to watch the structure burn down with him.

Some eyewitnesses reported seeing Crawford watering trees and plants around the home, but say he never directed the water towards the flames.

PEOPLE was unable to reach any of Williams’ relatives for comment. Similarly, Crawford’s attorney did not return calls about the case Wednesday.