Lawyers to present Stayner as
insane to avoid death penalty
SAN JOSE — Yosemite killer Cary Stayner was convicted Monday of murdering three park tourists in a crime that spread terror through Central California and shattered the serene image of one of America’s most treasured places.
The 41-year-old former motel handyman faces the death penalty because the murders were committed during other felonies such as burglary and attempted rape. He was convicted of three counts of first degree murder and a charge of kidnapping.
Defense lawyers conceded that Stayner killed Carole Sund, 42, her daughter, Juli, 15, of Eureka, and Silvina Pelosso, 16, of Argentina in February 1999, but they said he was crazy and asked jurors to convict him of second-degree murder, a verdict that would have spared him a possible death sentence.
Stayner confessed to killing the trio who were staying at the rustic motel where he worked as a handyman outside Yosemite National Park.
The crime was unsolved for nearly six months until Stayner struck again, snatching Yosemite nature guide Joie Armstrong and beheading her near her cabin in the park in July 1999. He’s serving life in prison without chance of parole after pleading guilty in federal court to first-degree murder in Armstrong’s death.
The sightseer case is being held in state court because the Sunds and Pelosso were slain outside the park.
Stayner’s lawyers plan to present an insanity defense to try to spare his life. In the sanity phase, to begin Thursday, the defense will build on that foundation to try and prove that Stayner didn’t know that he was killing or didn’t know it was wrong. If that strategy fails, a third phase of the trial will be held to determine if he is sent to death row.
As the verdict was read, Stayner did not appear to show any emotion. Outside of court, defense lawyer Marcia Morrissey said the sanity phase was a “different ball game.”
Stayner told FBI interrogators that he had fantasized for months about sexually assaulting young girls and then killing them. On the night of Feb. 15, 1999, he said he saw “easy prey” through the open blinds of Room 509 at Cedar Lodge.
He went to the room where he lived in the lodge, grabbed his killing “kit” that included duct tape, rope, a knife and a gun. He used a ruse to get in the room, pretending to check for a leak, and then pulled his gun, telling the three he was desperate and needed their car.
Stayner strangled Carole Sund while the girls were bound and gagged in the bathroom. He dumped her body in their rental car trunk.
He attempted to sexually assault both girls and have them perform sex acts on each other, but became frustrated when Pelosso wouldn’t comply.
He strangled her while Juli was in the bathroom and put her body in the car trunk. He repeatedly tried to rape Juli, but was hindered by impotence.
Early the next morning, Stayner drove Juli to Lake Don Pedro, a reservoir in the Sierra foothills, sexually assaulted her again, said he loved her and then slashed her throat. He covered her naked body with brush on a hillside and left.