Jury weighing sanity of Yosemite killer Stayner

By Brian Melley The Associated Press
Friday September 13, 2002

SAN JOSE — There are two things to consider in judging the sanity of Yosemite killer Cary Stayner: the criminal and his crimes. 

There’s his deformed head, a legacy of mental disorders, a troubled childhood and the voices that he said told him to “do the job.” There’s also Feb. 15, 1999, the day he plotted, acted and began covering his tracks in the three methodical killings. 

The defense asked jurors Thursday to focus on the killer, his twisted mind and his traumatic upbringing. The prosecution told them to look at how he killed the Yosemite National Park tourists and tried to get away with it. 

The Santa Clara County Superior Court jury was left to sort out the rest, weighing the testimony of two psychiatrists who reached opposite conclusions about whether Stayner was crazy or whether he knew precisely what he was doing when he killed — and that he knew it was wrong. 

“The thing that screams loudest from the beginning to the end of this case is that the crimes are the result of a mental disease or defect,” defense lawyer Marcia Morrissey told jurors. “These were senseless acts, they were bizarre acts.” 

Prosecutor George Williamson conceded in his closing argument that Stayner had mental problems, but he said it didn’t mean he was insane — that is, incapable of knowing he was killing or distinguishing right from wrong. 

“People who kill like this defendant are not normal,” Williamson said. “He obviously has issues.” 

The jury deliberated for less than three hours before adjourning for the weekend. Deliberations will resume Monday with testimony from a defense expert, who found Stayner insane, being read back to the jury. 

The same jury convicted Stayner last month of murdering Carole Sund, 42, her daughter, Juli, 15, of Eureka, and their Argentine friend, Silvina Pelosso, 16, while they were staying at Cedar Lodge, where he worked as a handyman outside Yosemite National Park. 

If jurors find him sane they will hear more evidence and decide whether Stayner, 41, is executed. If found innocent by reason of insanity, he will spend his life behind bars — a sentence he’s already serving for murdering park nature guide Joie Armstrong. 

Williamson, the plainspoken, Kojak-quoting, to-the-point prosecutor, said the issue of Stayner’s state of mind was a “no brainer.” 

He took less than 30 minutes to cover two months of evidence, slipping in digs along the way at the defense, which spent all Wednesday in its closing argument and another hour Thursday during its rebuttal. 

“I’m not going to stand up here and waste your time,” Williamson said. 

The proof of Stayner’s sanity came right from his own mouth, he said. 

In his confession to the FBI, Stayner detailed how he chose his victims, how he tricked his way into their room at the rustic lodge where he worked, how he used a rope to kill two of them quietly, how he meticulously cleaned up afterward and how he tried to throw investigators off his trail. 

Williamson revisited the facts in the case, repeatedly saying that “he had to have enough sense” to know his prey were in an isolated section of the lodge, to recognize they were vulnerable and to know there was no man who might stop him. 

In convicting Stayner last month, the same panel rejected defense claims that his warped mind prevented him from forming the intent required for a first-degree murder conviction. 

Williamson, who has drawn on the wisdom of the lollipop-sucking TV detective Kojak to sum up evidence, said the defense had merely dusted off that evidence for the sanity phase.