Yosemite killer’s fate with jury

By Brian Melley The Associated Press
Wednesday October 09, 2002

The attorney for Yosemite killer Cary Stayner asked jurors Tuesday to look beyond ignorance and cause for vengeance by showing mercy and kindness to spare his life. 

“I’m pleading that we overcome the cruelty of Cary Stayner’s acts with understanding, mercy and love,” defense lawyer Marcia Morrissey said in her closing argument. “I’m pleading for a time when hatred and cruelty and revenge did not control our hearts.” 

She told the jury — which previously rejected her arguments by convicting Stayner of first-degree murder and finding him sane — that they stood between the past and the future in showing that crimes driven by mental illness deserved some leniency. 

The case went to the jury Tuesday morning to decide whether Stayner will receive a death sentence or life in prison. 

Stayner, 41, was convicted in August of murdering Carole Sund, 42, her daughter Juli, 15, and their Argentine friend Silvina Pelosso, 16, by the same jury that now must decide whether he will endure the same fate. 

The three were murdered in February 1999 while staying at a lodge just outside Yosemite National Park where Stayner worked as a handyman. 

He is already serving a life sentence for the murder of nature guide Joie Armstrong, 26, in July 1999. 

On Monday, Morrissey said a fatal combination of obsessive compulsive disorder and sexual disorders collided in 1999 when visions and voices Stayner had reported for years escalated to the point where he lost touch with reality. 

“The struggle to keep the images inside himself are being lost,” she said. 

But prosecutor George Williamson told jurors that Stayner was a predator, not a man driven by mental health problems. 

“There is no substantive or compelling evidence that when he committed these three murders he was mentally or emotionally screwed up,” Williamson said Monday in a packed courtroom that included Stayner’s mother and father and members of the victims’ families. “There is no evidence that he was so emotionally whacked out or under such mental foment that he didn’t know what he was doing.” 

Morrissey said Stayner led a peaceful, crime-free life for 37 years — until the four killings in a five-month period. She said the sensational kidnapping of Stayner’s younger brother and his molestation by an uncle should also be considered as factors to give him the lesser sentence. 

“It doesn’t excuse it, doesn’t make it nice,” Morrissey said. “It does mitigate it.” 

Williamson said Stayner’s entire defense was that he wanted jurors to feel sorry for him and “throw him a bone” of life behind bars. 

“Is his life so tragic that he’s deserving of your sympathy and forgiveness?” Williamson asked the jury, as he recounted the litany of sexual abuse and degradation forced upon the two teenage victims after Stayner strangled the elder Sund with a rope.