Craig Crimmins Trial

Murder at the Met: Craig Crimmins on Trial for Murder of Violinist

People v. Crimmins, 470 N.Y.S.2d 617 (App. Div. 1984)

Helen Hagnes was a Julliard graduate and violinist at the Metropolitan Opera House. On July 23, 1980, the Berlin Ballet performed its first act of Dostoyevsky’s “The Idiot” at the Met, and Hagnes told a fellow musician she’d be back after speaking with one of the performers. Her body was discovered at 8:30 the following morning. She had been thrown from the Met’s sixth-story roof into a ventilation shaft.              

Police theorized the killer was familiar with the Met’s labyrinthine backstage area. With the aid of hypnosis, a ballerina remembered seeing Hagnes in a backstage elevator. A plainly dressed white man with dark hair was beside her. Police composed a sketch. More than a month after Hagnes’s death, and after 800 police interviews, the investigation focused on Craig Crimmins, age 21, an employee of the Met—a normal guy, according to a security guard who worked with him.

The prosecution’s case hinged on a highly detailed videotaped confession, in which Crimmins admitted to killing Hagnes after a chance encounter in the elevator. Defense attorney Lawrence Hochheiser alleged that since Crimmins did not put the confession in his own words—rather, he had detectives lead with questions to which he responded “yes” or “no”—the confession was coerced. The jury rejected this argument, and on September 2, 1981, Crimmins was sentenced to 20 years to life. 

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