Stayner sentenced to death
SAN JOSE – A former motel handyman was sentenced to death Thursday for murdering three Yosemite National Park tourists in a 1999 crime that spread fear throughout California as it went unsolved for six months.
Cary Stayner was ordered to die in state prison, a fate that could be decades away on the nation’s most congested death row.
Judge Thomas Hastings became emotional and abruptly left the bench before imposing the death sentence reached by a jury in October. Victims’ family members and some jurors who had returned to court to witness the verdict also wept.
Stayner, clad in a red jail jumpsuit, bowed his head but showed no emotion as Hastings sentenced him to death three times, once for each murder, after returning to the courtroom.
Hastings rejected new defense claims that juror misconduct prevented a fair trial. The judge said there was overwhelming evidence against Stayner and that the devastating emotional toll justified execution.
A jury rejected Stayner’s insanity defense this summer and convicted him of murdering Carole Sund, 42, her daughter, Juli, 15, and their Argentine friend, Silvina Pelosso, 16, while they stayed at the rustic motel where he worked outside the gates of Yosemite in February 1999.
Stayner, 41, is already serving a federal life sentence without parole for murdering a Yosemite nature guide six months after the tourists vanished.
”I’ve never seen anything that’s so close to black and white and evil and good as Stayner and our children,” said Francis Carrington, the father of Carole Sund and grandfather of Juli. ”I’m so proud of the way Carole and Juli lived, and I’m so ashamed of Stayner.”
The case automatically will be appealed to the state Supreme Court and is expected to spend many years in higher courts.
After the sentencing, some of the jurors hugged Carrington inside the Santa Clara County Courthouse. Jose Pelosso, the father of Silvina, was teary-eyed but smiled as Carrington flashed a thumbs-up signal outside.
Stayner’s father, Delbert Stayner, said his son was deprived of a fair trial by a ”kangaroo court” and a judge who ignored defense arguments.
The elder Stayner, whose other son, Steven, was kidnapped by a pedophile and held captive seven years, said the death sentence was the latest blow to a family that’s suffered greatly. Steven Stayner, the subject of a TV movie after he escaped his captor, was killed in a motorcycle crash in 1989.
”All of it’s been bad,” Delbert Stayner said of his family’s life.
”Del” Stayner never got over his youngest son’s abduction, and the arrest of his oldest son for murder left him in disbelief. Stayner now concedes his son is a sick man.
If there was any doubt that Cary Stayner was a killer, it quickly evaporated after hearing his lengthy tape-recorded confession to FBI agents when he was questioned in July 1999 after the headless body of nature guide Joie Armstrong was found near her cabin in the park.
Stayner said he had fantasized about killing and saw his opportunity Feb. 15, 1999, when the tourists were alone in their room at the Cedar Lodge, where he worked.
Stayner tricked his way through the door, bound the three with duct tape and then killed them, strangling the mother and Pelosso and then molesting Juli before driving her to a reservoir in the Sierra Nevada foothills and slashing her throat.
”I’m just horrified when I think of what happened in that room, what my daughter felt when she realized she was in serious trouble,” said Carole Carrington as she asked the judge to sentence Stayner to death. ”How frightened the girls must have been when he cut their clothes off.”
The charred bodies of Carole Sund and Pelosso were found a month later in the trunk of their torched rental car. A week later, Juli’s decomposing body was discovered on a hillside overlooking Lake Don Pedro.
As the crimes went unsolved, terror swept the Central Valley and the rugged Sierra Nevada, casting a shadow over Yosemite’s serene image.
Until Stayner confessed, the FBI had focused on the wrong suspects, declaring that the culprits – a group of methamphetamine users in Modesto – were behind bars on unrelated charges.
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