Election Section

Yosemite killer’s parents ask jury to spare his life

By Brian Melley
Friday October 04, 2002

SAN JOSE — The mother of Yosemite killer Cary Stayner pleaded for his life Thursday, saying that he isn’t a monster and that his execution would not change anything. 

Kay Stayner said she has a hard time believing that the “ideal” child she raised — artistic, seldom in trouble and quiet — would grow up to be a killer. But it’s something she has come to accept with the four murder convictions that could send her son to death row. 

“If his dying would bring these people back that he killed, I’d say do it,” she said. “But executing Cary is not going to bring them back.” 

In what amounted to an emotional and public family reunion of sorts, Stayner’s parents and three sisters all appeared in court for the first time during the 12-week trial as the defense attempted to sway the jury that Stayner should be sentenced to life in prison without parole. 

Jurors will weigh testimony from Stayner’s family, friends and experts who said mental illness made him kill against evidence of the crimes. 

Stayner, 41, was convicted of murdering Carole Sund, 42, her daughter, Juli, 15, and their Argentine friend Silvina Pelosso, 16, while they were staying at the motel where he worked as a handyman outside Yosemite National Park in February 1999. 

He is already serving life in prison without parole for murdering park nature guide Joie Armstrong, 26, five months later. 

Evidence during the testimony by Stayner’s parents included enlarged photographs from happier times: their infant first son; a young boy lathered in calamine lotion after an encounter with mosquitoes or poison oak; and a smiling young pupil with crooked bangs. 

Stayner’s mother and sisters looked straight ahead as they testified, avoiding eye contact with the defendant as he bowed his head, occasionally wiping tears with his palms and blocking his ears with his hands. 

When his father, Delbert Stayner, took the stand, he grinned quickly at his son, nodded his head and said he had been a bad father at times. 

He was recovering from back surgery when his son was born in 1961 so he avoided picking him up. If the boy cried, Delbert would yell at him to stop, which only scared the infant. 

After his youngest son, Steven Stayner, was snatched off a Merced street in 1972, Delbert Stayner became obsessed with finding him, neglecting 11-year-old Cary and his three sisters. Family road trips were spent chasing far-flung leads from psychics, distributing fliers or digging in fields. 

“When he really needed his papa, I was too concerned about Stevie. I hardly ever talked to him,” Delbert Stayner said as he wept. “I was especially hard on Cary.” 

Kay Stayner, who has been referred to throughout the trial as an unemotional disciplinarian, broke down and cried as she recalled toll the seven-year disappearance of Steven took on the family. 

Her father, who suggested the disappearance of Steven was a good thing because she would only have to clothe four kids, had taught her not to cry. He said it would make her appear crazy like her mother and Kay Stayner brought that demeanor to her own house. 

The family rarely discussed Steven’s disappearance because it was troubling and they didn’t have answers. 

“I know it upset Cary because he felt responsible,” she said. “He was the big brother.” 

In 1989, nine years after Steven returned home a hero after escaping with another boy from their abductor, he was killed in a motorcycle crash. Kay Stayner said Cary Stayner, always a bit of a loner, retreated further. 

Delbert Stayner said they all broke down in tears when they first visited their son behind bars after his arrest in the killings. 

“It was terrible,” he said. “Cary said to me, ’Papa, I’m so sorry.”’ 

Both parents said they didn’t want their son to die, that they loved him and wanted him in their lives. 

“My son is sick right now, very sick,” Delbert Stayner said. “I’ve lost one son.” 

The Stayners said they have avoided the trial because their son asked them not to attend and because Kay Stayner works and the expense would be too great. But she said she wouldn’t have missed the opportunity to tell the jury that he’s a “wonderful human being.” 

“I want to be here to tell that he’s not the monster that people said he is,” she said. 

Defense lawyer Marcia Morrissey said the family’s show of affection for their son was symbolic of a change that has occurred in the last three years. 

“The parents who reacted so coldly when Steven was gone and the parents who appeared in court today are different people,” Morrissey said outside of court. 

Francis Carrington, who lost his daughter Carole Sund and granddaughter Juli to Stayner, said he respected the parents for fighting for their son’s life, but he said that Stayner didn’t deserve sympathy because he didn’t show any during his crimes.