Judge agrees to move trial in Yosemite murder case

By Brian Melley The Associated Press
Tuesday October 30, 2001

MARIPOSA — The triple murder trial of Yosemite killer Cary Stayner will be moved out of this tiny community, away from the rugged mountains where he allegedly preyed on women, a judge ruled Monday. 

Judge Thomas Hastings agreed with the defense and prosecution that extensive news coverage of the case — including Stayner’s confession to four killings — would make it difficult to find a fair jury in this Sierra Nevada foothills county. 

Stayner, who appeared in court Monday with his head freshly shaved, could face the death penalty if convicted of killing three Yosemite tourists who were staying at Cedar Lodge, where he worked on the outskirts of Yosemite as a handyman. 

He is accused of killing Carole Sund, her daughter, Juli, and friend Silvina Pelosso in February 1999. 

The parents of Carole Sund said they were surprised by Stayner’s scalped look. Carole Carrington said he looked crazy. 

Defense lawyer Marcia Morrissey said outside of court that Stayner has shaved his head throughout his life as a result of a chronic hair-pulling disorder. 

He has always appeared in court with a crop of thinning hair. 

“It was a just a shock,” Francis Carrington said. “It looked like a long-term convict or something.” 

Stayner, 40, already is serving a federal life sentence for murdering Yosemite naturalist Joie Armstrong in July 1999. 

Hastings, a Santa Clara County judge assigned to the case, set a hearing for Dec. 17 to consider where to hold the trial. 

Prosecutor George Williamson recommended Sacramento, Santa Clara and Colusa counties. Morrissey suggested San Francisco or Los Angeles because they have larger jury pools. 

Court administrators will confirm which counties have adequate security, staff and courtrooms available for a trial starting Feb. 25.  

The court then will notify lawyers of the possible sites so they can conduct telephone polls or other research to determine how widely known the case is in those counties. 

Morrissey also said she would be filing motions to dismiss the charges against Stayner, and would seek to suppress witness statements. 

Morrissey left the court without making further comment. She said in the past she would seek to bar evidence of Stayner’s lengthy recorded confession to FBI agents. 

The tape of the confession was played at a hearing in June, with Stayner describing the methodical killings in graphic detail. 

He said a longtime fantasy of killing came alive the night of Feb. 15, 1999, when he saw “easy prey,” the mother and two teens, through the window of Room 509. 

Stayner went to the door and said he had to check a leak in the bathroom. Once inside, he pulled a gun and tied them up. He strangled Carole Sund, 42, and Pelosso, 16, in the room and put them in the trunk of their rental car. 

“I had no feeling, like I was performing a task,” he said about killing Carole Sund, the first of his victims. 

After repeatedly sexually assaulting Juli Sund, 15, he drove her to a remote lake and slashed her throat. He abandoned the rental car and torched it. 

He said it was the first time he ever felt in control of his life. 

Stayner was caught six months later at a nudist colony, after investigators found the headless body of Armstrong in a creek near her cabin in the park. Stayner was arrested after confessing to all four killings.