FRESNO — By his own words, motel handyman Cary Stayner guaranteed that he’ll never be a free man for murdering a naturalist in Yosemite National Park.
In confessing to beheading Joie Armstrong and later through a plea bargain with prosecutors, Stayner sealed a fate that will be finalized Thursday when he is sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole.
It also will be his final chance to say anything publicly about the killing, and he’s expected to read a short statement expressing remorse.
“I would anticipate he will basically just apologize to everybody he’s hurt, the victim, his family, basically saying he’s sorry,” said federal defender Robert W. Rainwater.
As a condition of the guilty plea, which averted a possible death sentence, Stayner agreed to take his story to the grave to spare Armstrong’s family from further media attention.
“Until his death he will not speak to anyone, write to anyone or communicate to anyone about the death of Joie Ruth Armstrong,” stated an agreement he signed.
With the exception of a confession to law enforcement officers, Stayner has said little about Armstrong and three Yosemite tourists he’s accused of killing.
His father, Delbert Stayner, visits him weekly and said they’ve never discussed the murders. The 67-year-old retired mechanic still doesn’t want to think his son is a killer.
“I just can’t believe him doing these things,” Delbert Stayner said Wednesday. “If you’re a father, you’re always thinking maybe it was somebody else.”
Under oath in U.S. District Court in September, however, Stayner left no question that he killed Armstrong, a 26-year-old woman who led children on nature hikes. He pleaded guilty to kidnapping, attempted sexual assault and murder in the killing last July.
Armstrong’s headless body was found in woods near where she lived in the park. Stayner, 39, was arrested three days later, concluding a sweeping investigation and manhunt that began five months earlier when the three women tourists disappeared.
Part of Stayner’s story is expected to become public at some point when excerpts of his confession to killing Armstrong are unsealed.
Judge Anthony W. Ishii ordered that documents, including parts of the confession, would be unsealed after the sentencing.
Stayner appealed and Ishii ruled Wednesday that defense lawyers have until Dec. 8 to obtain a stay from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
If the appeals court doesn’t issue a stay by that date, the files will be unsealed, said Neil Shapiro, a lawyer representing a group of media organizations including The Associated Press.
One of the documents in question was filed by prosecutors seeking the death penalty and contains the most heinous portions of Stayner’s confession to killing Armstrong, a law enforcement official told The Associated Press.
Defense lawyers have argued that releasing the documents could jeopardize Stayner’s right to a fair trial in state court for the murders of Carole Sund, 42, her daughter Juli, 15, and their Argentine friend Silvina Pelosso, 16.
The three were killed in February 1999 during a sightseeing trip to Yosemite. They had been staying at the Cedar Lodge, a remote and rustic motel outside the park’s western gate, where Stayner lived and worked.
Stayner is expected to be arraigned in Mariposa Superior Court for the murders in the next two weeks. Lt. Brian Muller of the county sheriff’s office said state prosecutors will announce at a future hearing whether they plan to seek the death penalty.