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Jury recommends Stayner’s death

Brian Melley The Associated Press
Thursday October 10, 2002

SAN JOSE — Convicted Yosemite murderer Cary Stayner should die for his crimes, a jury decided Wednesday, rejecting defense pleas to show him mercy because of a traumatic childhood, mental illness and an inability to control his urges. 

The Santa Clara County Superior Court jury, which also sided with the prosecution in two earlier verdicts, deliberated less than six hours in the third and final phase of Stayner’s 13-week trial. 

The courtroom was silent as the decision was read, and Stayner showed no reaction. His sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 12. An appeal in the case is automatic, and his lawyer said one of the main issues will be that Stayner’s parents weren’t allowed to detail his troubled upbringing. 

The killings terrorized communities along the rugged Sierra Nevada in 1999 and left a frightening human imprint on one of the most dramatic and serene landscapes in America as they went unsolved for more than five months. 

Carole Sund, 42, her daughter, Juli, 15, and their Argentine friend, Silvina Pelosso, 16, vanished without a trace on a trip to Yosemite National Park in February 1999. The elder Sund, who once honeymooned at the park, took the girls there as a treat before Pelosso returned home. 

In snapshots taken the last day they were seen alive, the three posed happily beside snow-dusted meadows in Yosemite Valley, beneath granite monoliths and in front of cascading waterfalls. 

That night, Feb. 15, 1999, Stayner dashed plans for the future after noticing them through an open curtain in Room 509 in a remote corner of Cedar Lodge, where he worked as a handyman. The mother was reading a book, the girls were watching a videotape and according to his confession, Stayner saw “easy prey” to fulfill a longtime sexual fantasy that had turned violent. 

Carole Carrington, the mother of Carole Sund and grandmother of Juli, said she felt the verdict did not end their grief but marked the end to “part of the problem.” 

“Condemning Cary Stayner to death is not happy for anybody, but it’s justice,” she said. “I think there is definitely something wrong with Cary Stayner. I don’t think anyone kills four people that doesn’t have something very seriously wrong with them. But I don’t think he was insane, and I do think he knew what he was doing.” 

Stayner’s defense conceded at the outset of the trial in July that prosecutors had the right man, but they claimed he didn’t deserve to die because he was crazy, acting in the throes of a major mental illness. 

At each phase of the trial, new layers of Stayner’s psychiatric problems were revealed by expert witnesses and corroborated by friends, relatives and acquaintances who spoke of his lifelong hair pulling, his obsession with a bigfoot creature and the voices he said he couldn’t get out of his head. 

Stayner never testified, but the prosecution relied on his own words as its strongest evidence, using his lengthy tape-recorded confession each step of the way to show he was cunning, methodical and went to great lengths to cover his tracks. 

Stayner, 41, blocked his ears as the tape was played, as if he couldn’t bear to listen to his own voice calmly describing the violent acts. 

Stayner said he tricked his way into the tourists’ room by pretending to check for a leak and then pulled a gun and said he was a desperate man needing money and a car. 

He bound them with duct tape, and, with the girls in the bathroom, strangled Carole Sund and stuffed her body in the trunk of her rental car. 

He strangled Pelosso in the bathroom after she wouldn’t comply with his sexual demands and then spent the rest of the night molesting Juli and trying unsuccessfully — because he was impotent — to rape her. 

In the early morning, Stayner drove Juli to a scenic overlook at Don Pedro Lake and carried her “like a groom carrying a bride over the threshold” to a grassy hillside, where he sexually assaulted her one more time, told her he loved her and then slit her throat. 

After covering her body with brush, he drove the car miles away and abandoned it along a logging road. He returned later and torched it.