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Jonathan J. Cooper the Associated Press
Published: 13 December 2010

CORVALLIS, Ore. (AP) -- No stranger to scuffles with the law, Cody Crawford's latest troubles began the day after a firebomb destroyed an office in a Corvallis mosque and FBI agents and local police raided his home.

Authorities were investigating the arson-caused fire at the Islamic center where the teen accused in the Portland bomb plot once worshipped, and they had found a flashlight after the Nov. 28 fire. Crawford, 24, said it looked like his.

Police and the FBI took DNA samples and seized computers, digital camera equipment, a gas can and a lighter from his house and sent the evidence off to be examined.

Authorities won't say whether they have identified a suspect in the arson and they won't talk about Crawford, but court documents show they're interested in him.

In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, Crawford said he's ``100 percent innocent,'' that he's a peaceful person and does not dislike Muslims.

``They're all just normal people. We are all people,'' said Crawford.

If he's peaceful now, he hasn't always been. He was frequently in trouble with the law _ accused in years past of assault, breaking a window when he was in jail, and throwing a cup of urine at a deputy, among other offenses.

But Crawford told The AP he's changed. He'd been excelling in community college and was released from probation two weeks before an FBI agent knocked on his door.

Crawford said he agreed to be interviewed by The AP to show that he is being unfairly targeted by police.

Neighbors and classmates describe Crawford as a sweet young man who loves school and is eager to be a good dad to his 4-year-old boy. He was chairman of the parents' council of the Corvallis Head Start program and recently did some work with Habitat for Humanity.

``He's always answering questions and he's always on the top of his game,'' said Alan Turner, a classmate at the local community college.

But even Crawford's relatives have expressed worry about his past behavior. After he was thrown into a county jail last year his sister told a sheriff's deputy he was ``delusional,'' that he ``had not been himself lately'' and he had even said he worked with the CIA, according to a sheriff's office report.

The fire at the mosque burned an administrator's office.

The FBI and Corvallis police hunted for clues from neighbors. Their interest was piqued when Crawford volunteered that a small flashlight had disappeared from his porch. His description resembled one they'd found at the crime scene.

Authorities returned later to show Crawford a picture of the flashlight. He said it looked like his. And at 1:10 a.m. police and FBI agents arrived to raid the home where Crawford lives with his son, his 21-year-old sister and their 56-year-old mother.

Crawford told The AP he's now uncertain the flashlight authorities found is even his. In the picture, it had a black stripe that didn't look familiar, he said.

The raid came a year and a half after Crawford was arrested for jaywalking while drunk and for spitting and throwing urine on jail guards. While in jail he said the CIA was after him and his son was in danger, delusions that worried authorities and his family.

The episode was a low point, he told The AP. He maintains he never broke the law but agreed to a plea deal in order to get back to his son faster.

``I was just out of it,'' he said. ``I'd never wish that on anyone, what I went through.''

A day before his arrest last June he'd returned to Oregon for the first time after spending six years in Panama, falling in love with a local woman and having a son.

He said the relationship had devolved and he'd developed a chemical dependence on alcohol.

Crawford started getting into trouble long before last year's jaywalking arrest, and his problems with alcohol go back years.

In 2003 his mother persuaded a judge to send her 16-year-old son off to a camp for troubled youths in Costa Rica. Up until then, he'd been busted for burglary, criminal trespassing, dealing drugs and other crimes, according to accounts from the time published in the McMinnville News Register.

Contacted by The AP, federal authorities refused to discuss the ongoing investigation into the mosque burning or Cody Crawford.

But court documents that were filed to justify the search of his home show law authorities have an intense interest in him.

Corvallis police detective James T. Poole wrote in the affidavit ``I have probable cause to believe that evidence'' of the arson ``can be found inside the garage'' of Crawford's home ``and on the person of Cody Seth Crawford.''

Poole wrote that Crawford denied drinking alcohol the evening he was questioned but eventually acknowledged he had one beer. He also wrote that Crawford had lied about his probation status, although it turned out that Crawford was telling the truth.

In an affadavit requesting a second search, a neighbor told police he'd often see Crawford in the garage, sometimes in the middle of the night. Crawford had earlier told police he ``doesn't go in there at all,'' according to the document.

Crawford said he's quit smoking marijuana but drinks occasionally, and he doesn't consider himself an alcoholic. He argues police are using his fondness for beer to demonize him.

Crawford talks continually, bouncing from subject to subject. He says he has a nonverbal learning disorder.

Doctors diagnosed him with high-functioning autism, his mother, Robin, said.

The young man says he is eager to volunteer in class even if he doesn't know the answer: ``I can't keep my mouth shut.''

But Crawford is silent when asked to describe the night the mosque burned. That will come out as the legal process evolves, he said.

He's being ``railroaded,'' he said, because he's different.

``Just because somebody has had struggles in their life ... just because you might be a little awkward or strange, does not make you a bad person,'' he said. ``It's how you pick yourself up and continue with life that counts.''

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