Yosemite killer back in court as judge weighs evidence
FRESNO, Calif. (AP) – Prosecutors have rejected a request from convicted Yosemite murderer Cary Stayner to waive a hearing to determine if he can stand trial in the killings of three Yosemite tourists.
Stayner is scheduled to appear Monday in Mariposa Superior Court where prosecutors will outline evidence against him in the killings of Carole Sund, her daughter Juli and their friend, Silvina Pelosso.
The preliminary hearing comes instead of a grand jury indictment, letting a judge determine if there’s enough evidence to continue to trial.
Defense lawyer Marcia Morrissey said she repeatedly offered to waive the hearing, but prosecutors refused.
Mariposa District Attorney Christine Johnson wants the hearing to preserve testimony that can be introduced later if witnesses are unavailable during the trial, a spokesman said.
The hearing will be the first time witnesses have testified publicly since the three tourists disappeared in February 1999 from the Cedar Lodge, a motel just outside the park where Stayner lived and worked as a handyman.
Stayner, 39, is already serving a federal life sentence for murdering a woman who led children on nature walks in the park. He could face execution if convicted in state court of killing the tourists.
Johnson will announce after the hearing if she will press for the death penalty.
Stayner confessed that he killed the three women after going into their room at the lodge to check a leaky faucet, according to court papers filed by investigators.
It took more than a month before the bodies of the three were found outside the park. The remains of Carole Sund, 42, and Pelosso, 16, were found in the trunk of their torched rental car on March 19. Stayner said he strangled them.
A week later, the body of Juli Sund was found near a reservoir. Stayner said he sexually assaulted her and then slit her throat.
As the killer remained on the loose, fear ran from the rugged Sierra Nevada to the Central Valley as local, state and federal authorities fanned out in a massive manhunt.
It wasn’t until the headless body of Joie Armstrong was found July 21, 1999 near her cabin in the park that Stayner became the main suspect.
Three days later, while being questioned by FBI agents, Stayner admitted killing all four women.
Morrissey declined to say why she offered to waive the preliminary hearing, but said introducing evidence at this stage will make it even harder to find an impartial jury later because potential jurors will have learned more about the case.
”It’s going to be difficult, if not impossible, to get a jury that hasn’t been tainted by all the publicity in Mariposa County,” she said.
The county, located in the foothills west of Yosemite, has a jury pool of about 13,000 residents.
In addition to seeking a change of venue, Morrissey said she’ll argue that Stayner’s confession is inadmissible.
Security has been beefed up for the proceedings at the 147-year-old Mariposa County Courthouse, the oldest active court in the state.
Court officials even tried to require criminal background checks for reporters until objections were raised that it violated constitutional protections of the press.
Stayner is being held in the nearby Mariposa Jail, where he is said to be a model prisoner.
”Mr. Stayner is behaving himself at the jail,” said Lt. Brian Muller of the sheriff’s office. ”Things are going wonderfully.”
On the Net:
Mariposa Sheriff Web site: http://www.sierratel.com/sheriff/
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