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Stayner Is Found Sane in Yosemite Murders

Courts: Jury rejects defense claim that the motel handyman was insane when he killed three tourists. Decision means he is eligible for the death penalty.

September 17, 2002|From Associated Press

SAN JOSE — Convicted Yosemite killer Cary Stayner was sane when he murdered three park tourists in 1999, jurors said Monday, clearing the way for them to determine whether he is sentenced to death or spends the rest of his life in prison.

Jurors took less than four hours to reject the defense claim that the former motel handyman was insane and unable to understand what he was doing, or that it was wrong to murder the three Yosemite National Park tourists.

The same jurors convicted Stayner last month of murdering Carole Sund, 42, of Eureka; her daughter, Juli, 15; and their friend Silvina Pelosso, 16, of Argentina, while they were staying at the lodge where he worked outside the park.

Jurors now will begin the penalty phase of the case against Stayner, 41, who already is serving a life sentence for murdering park naturalist Joie Ruth Armstrong.

Prosecutors said proof of Stayner's sanity was his confession to the FBI, in which he detailed his methodical and elaborate efforts to cover his tracks.

Prosecutor George Williamson said Stayner's efforts to cover up the crimes showed a consciousness of guilt, which was a direct sign that he knew the crimes were wrong.

"People who kill like this defendant are not normal," Williamson said in his closing argument. "He obviously has issues."

Defense attorney Marcia Morrissey said a legacy of family mental disorders, a troubled childhood and voices that Stayner said told him to "do the job" should have convinced jurors that he was insane.

"The thing that screams loudest from the beginning to the end of this case is that the crimes are the result of a mental disease or defect," Morrissey told jurors. "These were senseless acts, they were bizarre acts."

Shortly before reaching the verdict, the jury listened to a portion of the trial transcript in which defense expert Dr. Alison McInnes said on cross-examination that two other doctors had found Stayner sane.

Stayner confessed to killing the trio while they were staying at rustic Cedar Lodge in El Portal. The disappearance of the three in February 1999 received worldwide attention.

The crime was unsolved for nearly six months until Stayner struck again, snatching Armstrong, 26, and beheading her near her cabin in the park in July 1999.

Stayner told FBI interrogators that he had fantasized for months about sexually assaulting young girls and then killing them.

On the night of Feb. 15, 1999, he said he saw "easy prey" through the open blinds of Room 509 at Cedar Lodge.

With his killing "kit," which included a gun, knife, rope and duct tape, Stayner pretended to check for a leak. He then pulled his gun, telling the three he was desperate and needed their car.

Stayner described how he "nonchalantly" strangled Carole Sund while the girls were bound and gagged in the bathroom.

He dumped Sund's body in the trunk of her rental car and later strangled Pelosso.

Stayner repeatedly tried to rape Juli Sund throughout the night, but was hindered by impotence.

Early the next morning, he drove her to Lake Don Pedro, a reservoir in the Sierra foothills, where he sexually assaulted her again. He said he loved her and then slashed her throat and covered her body in brush.

Stayner ditched the rental car, with the bodies of Carole Sund and Pelosso in it, off a rural highway and later returned and torched it.

He told investigators that he wasn't upset about what he had done, and was only concerned about getting to work on time.

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