Election Section

Yosemite trial opens with warning of ’horrific’ evidence

By Brian Melley, The Associated Press
Tuesday July 16, 2002

SAN JOSE — The prosecutor who wants to put Cary Stayner to death on Monday led jurors on a tour of the lives his victims led up to their degrading deaths. 

Prosecutor George Williamson said the charges were very straightforward — three counts of murder and a count of kidnapping, plus six additional allegations that could trigger the death penalty. But, he said, the facts of the case were twisted. 

“This evidence is going to be horrific,” Williamson told the panel of nine men and three women. “You’re going to remember this for the rest of your lives.” 

Earlier, Stayner’s lawyers lost a bid to get the Yosemite homicides trial moved again just before the final jury was picked. 

Despite publicity so intense that 96 percent of the jury pool said they had seen or read something about the case, Stayner should be able to get a fair trial in Santa Clara County, Judge Thomas C. Hastings said. 

The defense even gave the judge digital photos of the scene outside the courthouse Monday morning, where dozens of reporters and cameramen had gathered, and complained of a circus atmosphere. 

But Hastings said he agreed with a prospective juror who said “you have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to know about this case,” and said he’s confident that jurors can set aside their opinions. 

Stayner is being tried for the February 1999 killings of Carole Sund, 42, and her daughter Juli 15, both of Eureka, and of Silvina Pelosso, 16, of Cordoba, Argentina. He is already serving life without parole in federal prison after pleading guilty to killing Yosemite park guide Joie Armstrong. 

Monday afternoon, Williamson told jurors that two factors doomed the trio of women. 

They arrived at Cedar Lodge outside Yosemite National Park on Valentine’s Day weekend when the motel was at capacity, so they were given rooms in its farthest reaches, leaving them isolated once other guests left. 

The second factor, Williamson said, was Stayner. 

“They crossed paths with this defendant,” and his need for control, power and sexual fantasy, Williamson said. “Little did they know they were going to be dead in little more than 24 hours. Never had a clue, zero, zip.” 

The jury of nine men and three women was chosen from a pool of 67 people selected after more than a month of winnowing. Four alternates also were chosen.