Nevada County District Attorney will not seek death penalty in Stan Norman murder case | TheUnion.com

Nevada County District Attorney will not seek death penalty in Stan Norman murder case

The two men accused of murdering Vietnam veteran Stan Norman will not face the death penalty.

Sean Bryant, 51, and Michael McCauley, 41, have pleaded not guilty in the death of Norman, 70, who first went missing in April.

Norman had been with friends to McGee's in Nevada City on April 14, then reportedly went with Bryant to his "office" in Grass Valley.

Bryant initially told investigators he and Norman drank heavily into the early morning and he passed out around sunrise. He said when he woke up in the afternoon, Norman had left — but phone records reportedly showed the two men left Grass Valley together.

Bryant was arrested on unrelated charges in mid-May after detectives served a search warrant on a Cascade Shores residence, as well as two other residences in Grass Valley. Human bones were located at the Cascade Shores property and are believed to be Norman's. Bryant was booked on the murder charge on May 27. McCauley was arrested on June 1.

Prosecutors had filed a special circumstance of murder with torture against the men. That designation meant they were eligible for death or life in prison with no chance of parole.

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On Wednesday, Nevada County District Attorney Cliff Newell announced he has decided against seeking the death penalty, an option his office had been mulling since October.

"This was a close call," he said in a news release. "The allegation of torture done to the victim in this case warranted serious consideration of the death penalty."

A significant factor in the decision was the desire of victim's family to forgo a prolonged death penalty prosecution and bring closure in this "horrible chapter of their lives."

"The reality in California is that it is very unlikely a death sentence would ever be carried out," Newell said. "There are 747 inmates currently on death row with the last execution in January of 2006. Were the District Attorney's Office to seek the death penalty it would have significantly prolonged the criminal justice process."

Both defendants remain charged with special circumstances murder that make them eligible for life without possibility of parole.

"We need to be respectful of the family's wishes," said Kristen Condict Day, a friend of Norman's who was instrumental in organizing search parties and in disseminating information about the prosecution of the suspects in his murder. "If they don't want to go through that, we need to support them, because that's their decision. I have confidence in our District Attorney's Office, that justice will be served either way."

According to Assistant District Attorney Chris Walsh, a change in state law that affects how some defendants in murder cases can be charged does not affect the prosecution of Bryant and McCauley.

Under the "felony murder rule," someone who participated in a robbery or other felony during which a person was killed can no longer be charged with murder if he or she wasn't the actual killer. But that's not the case with Stan Norman, because murder was the target crime, Walsh explained.

"The charged crime is murder," he said. "Bryant is being charged as the actual killer and McCauley is charged as an accomplice … They can both be found guilty of murder."

McCauley and Bryant are set to appear in court today, and Walsh hopes to set a date for the preliminary hearing into the evidence against them at that hearing.

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at lizk@theunion.com.

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