MARIPOSA — Cary Stayner had planned to kill for months before he acted spontaneously on his fantasy and targeted three Yosemite National Park tourists staying at the motel where he worked.
Stayner blocked his ears with his fists and wept Wednesday as his taped confession was played at his preliminary hearing in Mariposa Superior Court.
After hearing the confession and other testimony over the past three days, Judge Thomas Hastings found there was enough evidence to warrant a trial on murder charges. Stayner will be arraigned July 16, and a trial date will be set.
In his own words, Stayner told how he methodically killed the three, describing how it began Feb. 15, 1999, when he wrapped a rope around Carole Sund’s neck, sat on her back and “just nonchalantly strangled her to death.”
“I had no feeling, like I was performing a task,” he said in the confession. “Her hands turned purple and blue and I kind of realized that was it.”
Stayner said he did the same to Silvina Pelosso, and said he slashed Juli Sund’s throat the next morning after repeatedly sexually assaulting her and telling her he loved her.
The 147-year-old courthouse was silent as the tape of Stayner, in a quiet voice, described the crimes in graphic detail.
At one point in the proceeding, a weeping Jose Pelosso, Silvina’s father, who had flown from Argentina for the hearing, shouted a slur at Stayner and stormed out of the courtroom.
Stayner, 39, already is serving a life sentence after pleading guilty in federal court to murdering Yosemite naturalist Joie Armstrong in July 1999, a crime that led to his arrest in the tourists’ case. That case was held in federal court because she was killed in a national park.
He could face execution if convicted in the tourist case. Prosecutors said they will decide whether to seek the death penalty before the July hearing.
Stayner said he had no intention of killing the three women tourists until he saw them through the window in their room at the rustic motel where he worked outside the park as a maintenance man.
In the previous three months, however, he had begun to contemplate murdering his girlfriend and her two daughters. He described the woman as a “slob” and said he fantasized about sexually assaulting her girls and then burning the house down.
But he said his plans were thwarted because a caretaker lived upstairs from the family and they had been nice to him, making it harder to want to kill them.
The instinct to kill continued to ferment, however, and Stayner said he “researched” guests at the lodge whom he might kill during Valentine’s weekend when the Sunds and Pelosso arrived.
As he walked past room 509 the night of Feb. 15, he saw the girls lying in bed and Carole Sund reading a book. There was no man in the picture, and Stayner believed he had found “easy prey.”
The lodge also wasn’t busy that time of year, and there would be no one in adjacent rooms to hear the tourists if they screamed.
Stayner said he pretended to return a master key to the front office that he had taken to get pool cleaning supplies. Then he went to his room above the lodge office, donned camouflage pants, a black, hooded sweatshirt and grabbed a backpack that contained a gun, a knife, clothesline and black duct tape.
He knocked on the door of room 509 and said he had to check on a leak in the bathroom.
Carole Sund initially refused to let him in the room, but relented when he said he would get the manager.
When he emerged from the bathroom, he pulled a gun. The girls, he said, were unfazed, merely looking up from watching the videotape “Jerry Maguire.”
“The mother’s eyes got real big,” he said.
He made the three lie on the floor, bound their hands behind their back with duct tape, gagged their mouths and then took the girls into the bathroom while he strangled Carole Sund.
He then threw her body over his shoulder and dumped it in the trunk of their rental car.
“It felt like I was in control for the first time in my life,” Stayner said.
Stayner, a hairy, but balding man, said was careful to collect any hairs he left behind, something he learned from a forensic science program on the Discovery Channel.
At times during the interview with FBI interrogator Jeffrey Rinek, Stayner told how he had close brushes with law enforcement officers. He seemed boast as he told agents how he tried to throw them off his trail by wiping off fingerprints and getting a kid to lick an envelope so his DNA wouldn’t be on a letter he sent to the FBI with clues.
Agents encouraged him at times, telling him he was amazing, and they even expressed sympathy.
“Oh my God, you’ve been living with that?” Rinek exclaimed as Stayner began sobbing as he described how he killed Juli.
Stayner, who wrapped a naked Juli in a blanket and put her on the front seat of the car, said he had grown fond of her and didn’t want to kill her. But he didn’t have anywhere he could take her.
Juli asked if he was going to kill her, but Stayner didn’t answer.
As he drove from the Cedar Lodge with Juli in the passenger seat and two bodies in the trunk, Stayner had no idea where he was going.
Eventually he pulled into a parking lot at a scenic overlook at Lake Don Pedro, a reservoir in the Sierra Nevada and carried Juli down to a grassy section on a trail below.
After sexually assaulting her again, Stayner said he turned the girl around so he didn’t have to look at her. He kissed her a few times and told her he wished he could keep her.
Juli made a gesture as if putting a gun to her head, like she wanted to be finished off.
Stayner said he grabbed her hair, pulled her head back and took a couple of swipes with a long, serrated kitchen knife across her throat. He said he stared off in a daze toward the reservoir below as she made a loud, gurgling noise.
“I didn’t want her to suffer like the other two,” he said. “I know she did.”
On the Net:
Mariposa Sheriff Web site: http://www.sierratel.com/sheriff/