Evil in Paradise Yosemite National Park is a vast area of mountain paths, alpine wilderness and redwood forests, one of the most beautiful scenic attractions in America. Set aside in 1890 to preserve a portion of the natural beauty of the Sierra Nevadas in California, its breathtaking topography rises as high as 13,000 feet above sea level. Two-hundred miles of winding road and 840 miles of foot trail have lured tourists, campers and skiers for decades.
But, recently, under the mosaic of green conifer pines, domes of granite rock, silvery waterfall and misty mountain sky, a killer lurked. His first victims were a 43-year-old woman and two teenagers. They were missing for more than a month, and when the FBI located their bodies a cry of "serial killer!" shook the peaceful tranquility of God’s country.
The inn staff claimed that when they cleaned the room the next morning, Feb. 16, they had detected no evidence of foul play. Check-out had been done in advance and the keys were left on the room desk, as was customary. Jens Sund had scheduled to meet them at the San Francisco airport that evening on his way to Arizona, to where the others were to accompany him. While he attended his meeting, the females were to tour the Grand Canyon.
"(Jens) did not find his wife at the airport and assumed she had flown ahead," writes columnist Robert F. Howe in Time magazine. "She was not in Phoenix, either, but he played a round of golf there the next day and when she had still not attempted to contact him, he called the police." Evidently, it seemed that the ladies had never returned the rented Pontiac nor notified an anxious rental agency that they were extending their agreement.
Local police and Yosemite security began to search the area where the missing three were last seen. Initial suspicion was that they may have wandered off the main hiking paths and got lost in the maze of confusing woodland. But, soon that assumption dwindled.
"For four weeks, police, family and volunteers combed the rugged terrain of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in and near Yosemite National Park by helicopter, foot and skis," reported Patricia King and Nadine Joseph in Newsweek. "They were looking for a missing red 1999 Pontiac Grand Prix — and the women who rented it." But, when days passed and, strangely, Carole’s wallet, showed up on a Modesto (Calif.) street — its money and contents intact — the FBI smelled something bigger.
"At this point, we have not yet uncovered evidence to allow us to determine conclusively whether this was a tragic accident or a criminal act," said FBI agent Nick Rossi on Feb. 26. But, two weeks later, FBI predictions darkened. After a massive search-and-rescue team working around the clock in a 30-mile radius failed to find anyone, agent James Maddock, now placed in charge of the investigation, told the press, "We feel almost certain that the women were victims of a violent crime."
Because of the discovery of Sund’s wallet in suburban Modesto, police and FBI canvassed (to quote Maddock) "the logical routes in and out of that spot, interviewing homeowners and business owners and others who may have seen them." The Bureau relocated its headquarters from Yosemite to Modesto at this point and, on Feb. 28, twelve days after the women’s disappearance, hinted that it was no longer treating the Sund incident as a missing persons case, but as murder. More than a thousand leads, they confessed, produced nothing. Still, the Bureau intensified its search, recruiting the use of more high-tech equipment and air support.
Then came hard reality. The Sund family’s worst fears were confirmed when a hiker wandered onto the site of a burned-out red 1999 Pontiac hidden off the Highway 108 in the Stanislaus Forest region late in the day on March 18. The California Highway Patrol verified the car’s license plate as Mrs. Sund’s rented vehicle and immediately notified the FBI. Agents arrived at the scene early the 19th. Opening the trunk, investigators found two charred bodies. The corpses were unrecognizable, but within days, were identified as Carole Sund and Silvina Pelosso. Authorities now suspected that young Juli may have met with a similar fate elsewhere.
Canvasing the vicinity, FBI agents spread out along Highway 108, questioning locals and stopping cars for any information that might tell them how and when the car got there, but, more importantly, to find Juli.
But it was near Lake Pedro in Tuolumme County, miles away, that the badly decomposed body of Juli Sund was at last found on March 25. The girl’s throat had been cut.
Suspects Throughout the next several weeks, a task force (comprised of FBI agents and law enforcers from four surrounding counties), dedicated to no other purpose than to round up suspects, arrested several known sex offenders, drug users and ex-convicts with a record of violence from within a 75-square-mile area between Modesto and Sonoma. The police figured that the killer of the three women was someone familiar with the county, for whoever was guilty had successfully maneuvered an otherwise obvious shiny red Pontiac unseen through the natural terrain of ravines, lakes, dense woods and country roads. More so, opined the FBI, only a native would have been aware of the out-of-the-way site where the car, with its grisly contents, was eventually abandoned.
Although not named in print at the time, these names have since been published by the Fresno Bee:
- Michael "Mick" Larwick, 42, of Modesto, part of a vagabond group of methamphetamine drug users and friends centered in the Modesto area. Larwick, who grew up in Tuolumme County near where the bodies of Carole Sund and Silvina Pelosso were found, was jailed March 16 after he allegedly shot a Modesto police officer, an event that was ensued by a 14-hour standoff. He has an long criminal record and has been questioned extensively by the FBI. He denies any role in the Yosemite slayings.
- Eugene"Rufus" Dykes, 32, also of Modesto and Larwick’s half-brother. Arrested in March, he is now serving a year at Deuel Institute for an unrelated parole violation and has a long criminal record including sex and weapons convictions. In an interview from Deuel in June, he denies any involvement in the murders.
- Billy Joe Strange, 39, an El Portal parolee who worked at the Cedar Lodge lounge and restaurant, where the murdered women were last seen. He was arrested March 5 when he allegedly reported to his parole officer with liquor on his breath. The FBI pushed for Strange’s arrest, but he denied any part in the triple murders. Reportedly, many friends have rushed forward to his aid, calling the FBI’s suspicion a travesty.
- Darrell Gray Stephens, 55, Strange’s roommate. Convicted in 1978 for rape and robbery, he was jailed March 14 for failing to register as a sex offender. Stephens told the Bee that he is innocent.
- Rachel Lou Campbell, 36, of Modesto, who was charged in April with stealing checks and credit cards, and converting them into cash and merchandise worth $365,000. Campbell, who pleaded innocent to that charge, reportedly is a key witness. When first arrested on mail fraud charges, she had in her possession Carole Sund’s checking account and automated teller machine numbers.
- Larry Duane Utley, 41, an associate of Dykes and Larwick, first picked up during a March parole sweep. He was arrested in May on an unrelated crime charge, but was soon released.
- Teresa Kay Gray, 36, of Modesto. The FBI task force investigating Yosemite issued a federal warrant for her arrest after she failed to appear in Stanislaus County drug court in June.
- Kenneth "Soldier" Stewart, 24, a former cellmate of Dykes who was charged with attempted murder. He has been questioned about any involvement.
- Angelia Dale, who testified before the federal grand jury. She was subpoenaed because she is a friend of Dykes and Larwick.
- Maria Ledbetter, 24, of Modesto, an admitted methamphetamine addict and former girlfriend of Dykes, about whom she was questioned extensively.
- Jeffrey Wayne Keeney, 32, of Modesto. Arrested on an unrelated drug charge, he has been questioned about the Yosemite case.
The nation breathed a sigh of relief.
Unexpected Tragedy Acting on a tip from a caller who was worried about the whereabouts of his friend Joie Ruth Armstrong, park rangers found her mutilated body on the morning of July 22. It was discovered beyond a campground adjacent to her living quarters in the Foresta community, an enclave of some 30 cabins for use by park workers. Twenty-six-year-old Joie had been employed by the Yosemite Institute.
Station KCRA-TV in Sacramento, citing an unidentified source, was the first to leak the terrible news that the girl was decapitated. She had probably been murdered on the evening of Wednesday, July 21, investigators determined. In fact, she had been seen that day at the Institute offices near where Carole Sund and the teenagers were found earlier in the year.
Miss Armstrong was probably only hours away from leaving her quarters to visit a friend in Sausalito, California. When she did not appear as planned, her would-be host had phoned the park. Police found her car in front of her cabin, packed for the trip.
In light of its earlier estimation that the case was closed, the FBI remained relatively quiet, but conceded that the case needed to be re-evaluated. Chief James Maddock said he himself questioned whether the Bureau could have done anything to prevent Armstrong's killing. "I've struggled with that issue for the last 24 hours and continue to do so," he confessed. He did feel, however, that the FBI spared nothing to investigate the earlier killings. "I'm confident we've done everything that could be reasonably done."
The Armstrong tragedy reawakened dark fears and brought back those bad dreams the local residents thought they could put behind them. By Friday, the day after she was found dead, a hush had fallen over Yosemite Park.
"Freckled, red-haired and full of energy and enthusiasm, Armstrong loved children, nature and teaching. Those loves took her to Yosemite, a place known for its peace and beauty," wrote the Modesta Bee, one of a line of community Bee newspapers throughout California. Written the weekend after Armstrong was slain, it went on: "For the past year, she had worked for the Yosemite Institute, a nonprofit group that runs education programs through a partnership with the National Park Service..."
"'You should come see this place — I wonder if you ever will,' Armstrong had e-mailed her friend, only days earlier. 'I love my garden and living in Yosemite — one of the most beautiful places in the whole wide world.'"
Stayner On Saturday, July 24, within 48 hours of the Armstrong killing, FBI agent and in-charge James Maddock announced at a press conference that a man was in custody on strong suspicion of murder and that a "significant announcement" would be made shortly.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, "(A witness claimed that) Stayner was angry about authorities seizing his backpack after he was questioned earlier that day. He was also angry about how his truck had been searched."
Evidently, the agents also searched Stayner's apartment later in the day and discovered evidence that they determined linked him to Armstrong's murder. And they found even more. Special agent Maddock explained, "During the last 24 hours, we have developed specific information linking Stayner (also) to the Sund-Pelosso murders." What this evidence is was not made known, but he did indicate it was discovered in a search of Stayner's apartment over Cedar Lodge.
Stayner, in the meantime, had disappeared from the locale and was gone from the premises by the time agents came to arrest him. This was Friday evening, July 23rd.. They caught up with him, however, at the Laguna Del Sol nudist colony, where he was known to frequent. Its manager had seen a newscast on television, recognized Stayner's photo as one of his guests, and notified the FBI. Agents returned him to El Portal on Saturday where he was put through a lengthy interrogation.
By evening's end, the FBI felt it had gathered enough evidence and damaging testimony to arrest Cary Stayner for murder. Sunday morning, they rushed him to Fresno to officially lodge a complaint, then to Sacramento on Monday where he was arraigned before the courts.
That same day, Stayner allowed himself to be interviewed by a reporter from KNTV. During the session, an unexpected event occurred. In a voice that seemed relieved to be unburdening from its depth a long-kept secret, Stayner blurted, "I am guilty. I did murder Carole Sund, Juli Sund, Silvina Pelosso and Joie Armstrong ...None of the women were sexually abused in any way."
His confession and the details that followed shocked America.
"In (the) interview, Stayner said he had fantasized about killing women for the last 30 years," reports Yahoo!News, "and described in detail how he murdered Carole Sund, her daughter Juli, and visiting Argentine student Pelosso. He had strangled Pelosso and Carole Sund in their rented cabin in the Cedar Lodge motel, then took Juli Sund to a lake, where he killed her early the next morning..."
"He abandoned the group's rental car with the bodies of Mrs. Sund and Silvina inside, returning two days later to burn evidence and to retrieve Mrs. Sund's wallet, which he dumped in Modesto to confuse authorities," the Yahoo! report continues. "Stayner said he thought he had gotten away with the earlier crimes, but could not resist the urge to kill Armstrong after he struck up a chance conversation with her..."
Concluding the interview, he addressed the victims' families: "I am sorry their loved ones were where they were when they were. I wish I could have controlled myself and not done what I did."
FBI sources claimed that he had already confessed his guilt during the Saturday evening interrogation. In the Bureau's mind, this time it had the right man. He had given the FBI details "only the killer would know in such specificity that agents were able to recover evidence confirming his confession," Yahoo! asserts. "Knives were used in the slayings and the weapon suspected in Ms. Armstrong's death was recovered."
Billed as "Mr. Nice Guy"
"He would have been the furthest of suspects in the locals' minds."
If that comment made by Cedar Lodge restaurant manager Kathy Hefner sounds unforgivably naïve, read further. Most of Stayner's co-workers would probably say they fully understand why he had fooled the FBI as long as he did. He just wasn't the killer type, not a troublemaker, not a wise guy, never violent. His only encounter with the law was for marijuana use in 1997.
Odds and no Ends FBI Under Fire
When questioned further by the press about the FBI's error in not identifying Stayner as a suspect earlier, as well as what finally led them to Stayner, Maddock replied, "I do look forward to the day I can share the details of the investigations from start to finish."
That answer, however, was not good enough for many, including two attorneys representing some of the previously mentioned four men behind bars who are still considered as suspects in the Yosemite killings. Some of these suspects have already passed lie detector tests, say their lawyers, and have even offered to give blood samples to support their innocence. One suspect, it has been recently learned, had conclusive proof he had been working out of state at the time of the killings, but remains under scrutiny just the same. And meanwhile their perturbed lawyers see their clients as patsies forced to wait in the side lines while the FBI struggles to makes up its own mind.
"I don't understand how such a large investigation with such experienced investigators missed the trail completely," says Ramon Magana, representing two of the men. "They put so much time, energy and resources into an investigation of people that appear to be unrelated and unconnected to the case."
A brother—in-cause to Magana is Stanislaus County public defender Tim Bazar who claims, "I have never heard any evidence that ties (anyone) to these slayings. Not only did (the FBI) arrest everybody, over the last several months they attempted to put pressure on one or the other to turn the others in the group in...It actually appears they had nothing against anybody."
None of these voices is more entreating, however, than that of Mrs. Raquel Pelosso whose daughter Silvina perished in Yosemite: " I just cannot understand how so many people...didn't realize that maybe (Stayner) was the man, since I heard that he was interviewed some time ago."
Quoted the Modesto Bee: "In El Portal, a number of residents are convinced that no one person could have created so much horror, especially in the Sund and Pelosso slayings. "'The logistics of it say it had to involve more than one person, said Letty Carolyn Barry, owner of the Yosemite Rosebud Lodge, west of Cedar Lodge. "Privately, some members of the Sund-Pelosso task force are saying the same thing, sources have told the Bee. Those sources say it is difficult for some investigators to believe Stayner could have gotten the jump on all three women without any help, let alone dispose of their bodies."
And on the flip-side, the same paper notes another unconfirmed source that maintains Stayner did act alone, with the help of only a weapon. "Stayner," says the source, "used a gun after gaining entry to the motel room of the Sunds and Pelosso, and tied them up."
* * * * *There have been many developments in this case since this story was written. To review them all go to our archive on the Cary Stayner case and select from the updates we have.
Update August 1999 In an affidavit filed August 30, 1999, by FBI Special Agent (SA) Marcee Robinson in support of a search warrant for blood, hair and saliva samples from Cary Stayner, further details were presented about the murders in Yosemite. In this official file, which was requested by the state of California, it is made clear that Stayner, despite earlier denials, sexually assaulted two of his victims, Juli Sund and Silvina Pelosso.
Of the Joie Armstrong homicide, previously unreleased evidence strongly supports Stayner's confession and gives new details of that murder. For instance, according to the affidavit, "Vacuum sweepings taken from inside Armstrong's house, where Stayner claims to have bound her with duct tape, have yielded hair evidence. The FBI Laboratory has also found possible bodily fluid stains on a bed sheet taken from Armstrong's residence. The FBI also seized clothing stained with blood from Joie Armsttrong's body. Although most of the stains are likely to include Armstrong's blood, Stayner was observed to have a laceration on his hand during his interrogation, and therefore may have been cut and bled during the attack. Latent fingerprints have also been lifted from the interior of Joie Armstrong's truck, which Stayner admits to touching during his encounter with her."
Other objects of evidence are being examined in the interim. These include the knives Stayner claimed to have used to kill Juli Sund and Joie Armstrong, pieces of duct tape from Armstrong's house, and a blanket Stayner said he wrapped around the Sund teen.
Two vials of Stayner's blood, as well as 25 samples of Stayner's head and pubic hair, saliva and fingerprints, are scheduled for testing against trace evidence in the Fresno County Jail in the presence of law enforcement officials.
Update from October 1999 to February 2001 On October 20, 1999, Cary Stayner was officially charged with the murders of Carole Sund, 42, her daughter Juli Sund, 15, and their Argentine friend Silvina Pelosso, 16, after investigators claimed Stayner confessed to the crimes. He also allegedly confessed to beheading Joie Ruth Armstrong, a 26-year-old Yosemite naturalist, on July 21. The Sunds and Pelosso were last seen alive at the Cedar Lodge motel where Stayner worked. In addition to the murder charges, he was also charged with burglary, robbery, forcible oral copulation and attempted rape. Stayner was arrested at a nudist camp two days after Armstrong's slaying and was later charged with her murder. Investigators said they waited to charge Stayner for the Sund and Pelosso slayings until they had ruled out the possibility that he had accomplices.
Later the same month, the families of Stayner's victims filed a wrongful death lawsuit against The Cedar Lodge where Stayner was employed as a handyman when he allegedly killed three women who were sightseeing in Yosemite National Park.
The families of the victims, Carole Sund, 42, her 15-year-old daughter, Julie, and family friend Silvina Pelosso, 16, contend that employees of The Cedar Lodge were wrong to assign the women to an isolated room and failed to do a proper background check on Stayner. The lawsuits were filed in Fresno County Superior Court. Both families seek unspecified sums for punitive and other damages, and reimbursement for funeral expenses and legal fees. The Sund complaint, although similar to the Pelosso family complaint, is more specific in blaming the lodge for keeping Stayner on staff, saying its managers should have known that he acted in an "unusual, bizarre or violent manner" on previous jobs.
Cedar Lodge is just one of six area motels owned by a company operated by Gerry Fisher and his family. Stayner is named as a codefendant in the complaints which adds yet another legal layer to a case already compounded by parallel federal and state prosecutions and delicate defense issues.
On February 11 2000, federal prosecutors announced that they plan to seek the death penalty against Cary Stayner. U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno approved the decision, which will put Cary Stayner on death row if he is convicted of killing Joie Ruth Armstrong. His trial is set to begin in October. It is being heard in federal court because Armstrong was killed inside a national park. In seeking the death penalty, federal prosecutors cited aggravating factors, including the fact that the murder was committed "in an especially cruel, heinous and depraved manner" and with "substantial planning."
On July 12 2000, a federal judge ruled that the government could seek the death penalty against Stayner. In a decision filed on July 3, U.S. District Judge Anthony W. Ishii rejected Cary Stayner's challenges to the 1994 federal death penalty law.
Stayner had previously argued that the law is unconstitutional or being misapplied, and that its language is vague and the punishment is cruel and unusual.
Several days after the judge's decision, Stayner's attorneys asked to have his trial moved to Seattle, as they believed that pretrial publicity had made it impossible to seat an impartial jury in California. Attorneys for the prosecution agreed that Seattle was an acceptable alternative venue.
Stayner's lawyers chose Seattle because of its proximity to a federal holding facility, the promise of less media coverage and the district's indication that the trial could be accommodated. U.S. District Court Judge Anthony W. Ishii hinted that he would approve the change of venue if Stayner signed a written agreement. The trial is being held in federal court because Armstrong was killed inside a national park.
On July 28, Ishii granted a change of venue and postponed Stayner's trial for six months to give the defense more time to prepare. Originally scheduled for October 17 2000, the trial will now be held on April 10 2001.
Ishii approved the postponement, as Stayner's attorneys need additional time to analyze the 28,000 pages of evidence received so far. He also ruled that defense lawyers must notify the court by October 27 if they plan to pursue an insanity defense or present testimony on Stayner's mental health.
On October 18 2000, lawyers for Stayner said that sealed documents in the federal murder case against him should remain off-limits to the public and the media. Defense lawyers Robert W. Rainwater and Marcia A. Morrissey objected to a motion by news organizations asking a judge to make public a series of sealed documents in the case against Stayner for the murder of Joie Armstrong. The most prominent is a document filed by government prosecutors that stated their reasons for initially seeking the death penalty for Stayner in the beheading of Armstrong. Rainwater and Morrissey argue that since Stayner, who is still facing state murder charges in the deaths of three other Yosemite tourists, pleaded guilty to the murder of Armstrong, there should no longer be any public interest in the government's reasons for seeking the death penalty.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Duce Rice, one of the prosecutors in the federal case, said in a response to the motion that the government has no position regarding the news media's request to open the records. In addition to the reasons the government sought the death penalty, the news organizations also asked to view a series of other documents Judge Ishii sealed in the case, including payment vouchers, grand jury information and applications for medical testing and transportation of Stayner. The organizations that sought to unseal the documents are the McClatchy Co., which publishes The Fresno Bee and the Sacramento Bee and Modesto Bee, the Chronicle Publishing Co., the Associated Press and the Hearst Corp.
On September 15, 2000, one year, one month and 23 days after he took the life of the Joie Armstrong, Cary Stayner confessed to murdering her, thereby sparing his own life, for the time being. Wearing shackles and Fresno County prison garb, Stayner shuffled into the courtroom and made fleeting eye contact with Armstrong's mother, family and friends, before turning toward the judge to be sworn in. For the next 22 minutes Stayner answered the judge's questions firmly, quietly and without hesitation.
After making sure that Stayner understood the implications of his admission of guilt, the judge then read out the counts against him. On the charges of premeditated murder and kidnapping Stayner pleaded guilty. On the charge of sexual assault — "Guilty," Stayner answered. The judge accepted his guilty plea on all counts.
On December 12, 2000, the federal court papers were ordered to be unsealed after the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals denied a motion by Stayner's lawyers to keep the documents sealed from the public. Inside the files, in gory detail, Stayner describes how he beheaded Armstrong despite her futile efforts to escape death, including diving head first from the window of his moving sport-utility vehicle and fleeing into the woods.
The documents also revealed his graphic confession to her murder shortly after FBI agents arrested him. The FBI interviewed Stayner on July 24, 1999, after agents apprehended him at a nudist resort 35 miles from Sacramento three days after Joie Armstrong's murder. According to the transcript of the interview, Stayner confronted Armstrong at gunpoint on the front porch of her cabin in Foresta inside the national park. He told her it was a robbery, forced her into the cabin and covered her mouth and bound her hands behind her back with duct tape. Then he put her in his sport-utility vehicle.
"I lost control of myself and lost control of her," Stayner told the agents in the taped interview, parts of which were transcribed for the court. "When this started out I had no intentions of cutting her head off. I had no intentions of killing her, even the first time I saw her. Then I started thinking about it. It was in the house, there was nobody in the house with her and she kept walking out by herself and she watered the plants and it was obvious she was taking off and getting ready to go. That's when I started talking to her."
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Duce Rice then described Stayner's actions in the court papers:
"After he had driven a short distance, she dove head first out of the window of the moving truck, and, still bound with duct tape, ran through the woods toward the nearby community of Foresta to get help."
The papers describe in detail how the desperate woman tried to outrun the muscular, six foot tall Stayner after being chased and tackled by him, then dragged deeper into the woods where he attacked her with a knife as she tried to avoid him by keeping her chin down. The interview revealed a slashing execution scenario that continued for minutes before and after Armstrong's death. "She kept fighting and fighting and fighting," Stayner told the agents. That's when he took the knife, which he described as "not a very good one," out of his back pocket and cut her head off. He then described how he threw her body into a small creek and covered it with branches and leaves.
He told his interviewers that he thought of keeping the head. "I was never much of a trophy hunter," Stayner told the agents. After an agent asked him whether he knew the difference between a souvenir and trophy, he added, "It would have been a trophy most likely."
Asked about the killing, he said, "I didn't feel good about it. I say it's like matter of factly I was doing this, you know? It's like I'm a split personality. I don't black out and do things, you know.... I know what's wrong, what's right."
When asked by an agent if he knew that it was wrong when he was doing it, Stayner answered "Most definitely." Asked by an agent whether there was anything Armstrong could have done to save herself, the transcript ended without a complete answer.
"Well, she when — once she started running, and if she would have — would have been..." it ends without him finishing the thought. Also during the interview Stayner was asked why he decapitated Armstrong. He answered, "I just did the most revolting thing I could possibly do. It was something I just felt I had to do."
"Would you describe it as cold-blooded?" an agent asked.
"I think so," Stayner said.
Though the documents reveal no details about the deaths of Yosemite tourists Carole and Juli Sund and Silvina Pelosso, Stayner also has reportedly confessed to their killings as well. While there is no direct reference to the killing of the three tourists, there is a brief allusion in the FBI interview that could connect to those killings.
At one point an agent asks Stayner, "But you've never felt a body die in your arms before this?"
"Yeah," Stayner responds.
"Oh, I'm sorry, I forgot, okay," the agent says. "Okay, let's forget that part. All right. So now she's dead, you know she's dead, and you drag her along. ..."
In February 2001, reporters covering Stayner's upcoming state trial were required to undergo fingerprint checks by authorities concerned about security. The measure came as a surprise to editors, news directors and First Amendment experts.
Officials handling the background checks said they were worried about security at the Mariposa County courthouse. Superior Court Executive Officer Michael Berest said he thought he was following the procedure used to issue press credentials in a federal case. A federal court official in Sacramento said that to get a pass for the case, reporters had only to submit two photographs and show their credentials. Anyone with photo identification from the federal case did not have to undergo background checks, which cleared 13 reporters, but 50 who applied for credentials would also require fingerprinting.
The checks that were performed on 16 applicants did not unearth any criminal activity, authorities said. Should that happen, law enforcement officials will discuss whether the reporter can cover the trial. Terry Francke, general counsel for the California First Amendment Coalition, said the fingerprinting appears to violate constitutionally guaranteed press freedoms. He said Supreme Court rulings have held that the press and public have a right to attend criminal court proceedings.
On February 10 2001, the Mariposa Superior Court reversed the policy decision requiring criminal background checks for reporters covering the trial. According to Michael Berest, the court's executive officer, the requirement was withdrawn after news organizations and a public interest group complained that the decision violated press freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution. The media also objected to the fact that the policy required background checks for members of the news media but not the general public planning to attend the trial.
The policy was dropped after the Associated Press refused to comply and the court received complaints from newspaper editors, media lawyers and the California First Amendment Coalition, a group concerned with open government, free speech and free press issues.
Update from May 2002 to September 2002 The death-penalty trial of Cary Stayner was moved from Mariposa County to Santa Clara County, CA. In May, 2002, Stayner pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity in the 1999 murder of three tourists in Yosemite National Park. In mid-July of 2002, the trial began in Judge Thomas C. Hastings' courtroom with the prosecution team headed by George Williamson and the defense team headed by Marcia Morrissey.
On Monday, July 22, the court heard the former motel handyman's taped confession, which he had given to FBI agents.
According to Fresno Bee reporter Cyndee Fontanta, "In the taped confession, Stayner calmly reviewed how he strangled 16-year-old Silvina Pelosso in a motel bathtub near Yosemite National Park. How he sexually assaulted Juli Sund, 15, for hours before spiriting her away from the motel room she shared with her mother, 42-year-old Carole Sund, and friend Silvina.
"And then, not as calmly, how he carried Juli — "kinda like a groom carrying a bride over the threshold" — to a lonely vista point near Lake Don Pedro, pledged his love and then cut her throat as the sun lightened the sky." Stayner's confession to the strangulation murder of Carole Sund had been played to the court the previous week.
For the next two weeks, the court heard a group of experts testifying to Stayner's lack of criminal culpability due to brain abnormalities and mental illnesses.
In mid-August, two experts debated the photos of Stayner's brain and sharply disagreed. Dr. Joseph Wu, an expert called by the defense, saw abnormalities that could account for Stayner's violent tendencies, whereas Dr. Alan Waxman, called by the prosecution, saw nothing special to explain Stayner's behavior.
Ultimately, the closing arguments would present two very different views of Cary Stayner — a cold-blooded murdering sexual predator and a mentally-ill victim of child abuse who was overcome by his disabilities.
Morrissey, referring to the testimony of the defense medical experts, said on August 21, 2002, claimed that Stayner was a long way from being the organized, sophisticated serial predator that the prosecution suggested.
As reported by Court TV and Associated Press: "In his rebuttal of the defense's closing arguments on Thursday, August 23, 2002, prosecutor George Williamson said there was overwhelming evidence to convict Cary Stayner of first-degree murder and six special circumstances that could trigger the death penalty.
While there were weeks of testimony during the first phase of the trial regarding Stayner's sanity, the second phase of the trial requires that the prosecution prove that Stayner was sane and the third phase of the trial will determine his ultimate punishment.
"The story of Cary Stayner's family tree rose in bursts of bright color from a white horizontal chart.
"Yellow for psychosis. Green for obsessive-compulsive disorder. Red for substance abuse. Purple for pedophilia. Even more colors for more mental diseases ranging through four generations down to Stayner himself — the fruit of a family gene pool marked by psychiatric disorders. "
It is Dr. McInnes' belief that Stayner was legally insane when he committed the murders of the four women in Yosemite. Prosecutor George Williamson lost no time in challenging the credentials of Dr. McInnes in a rigorous cross examination.
Didn't Stayner know that he was killing human beings? Didn't he understand that his crimes were legally wrong? Dr. McInnes answered in the affirmative.
Dr. Park Dietz made a very strong showing. "He knew what he was doing was wrong," Dr. Dietz said emphatically. In his extensive testimony, he pointed out that the murders were planned, carried out with deception, covered up and lied about. Dietz called Stayner "one of the higher-functioning criminals" he had encountered.
On Monday, September 16, 2002, the jury determined that Stayner was sane at the time of the murders. This decision took the jury less than four hours to make.
CNN reported Wednesday, October 9, 2002, the jury recommended that Cary Stayner should die for killing three Yosemite National Park tourists in 1999, rejecting defense pleas to spare a mentally ill man twisted by genetics and a traumatic childhood.
After six hours of deliberation, the jurors rejected the option of recommending life in prison. Sentencing was scheduled for Dec. 12, and an appeal is automatic.
The courtroom was silent after the decision was read. Stayner showed no visible reaction.