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Tuite Set For New Trial In Crowe Killing

Aired 10/2/12 on KPBS News.

After serving roughly half of a 17-year sentence for killing 12-year-old Stephanie Crowe, Richard Raymond Tuite is set to get a new trial in one of the San Diego region’s most notorious criminal cases.

After serving roughly half of a 17-year sentence for killing 12-year-old Stephanie Crowe, Richard Raymond Tuite is set to get a new trial in one of the San Diego region’s most notorious criminal cases.

Stephanie Crowe
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Above: Stephanie Crowe

The U.S. Supreme Court today declined to review a ruling by a panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The high court gave no explanation for its decision to deny the California Attorney General’s request to overrule the three-judge panel. That’s typical regarding such a petition for review.

In a 2-1 ruling last year, the panel overturned Tuite’s conviction. The judges found that Tuite’s four-month trial was unfair because his attorneys did not have a chance to cross-examine a prosecution witness whose letter criticized a defense expert.

Tuite, a mentally ill drifter with a long history of drug abuse and brushes with the law, was convicted in 2004 of involuntary manslaughter. That was six years after Stephanie’s family discovered her body on her bedroom floor. The popular Escondido middle-schooler had been stabbed multiple times.

Escondido police had been called twice on the night of the murder by frightened neighbors who reported Tuite peering in windows and walking in houses. Officers responded to the Crowe neighborhood, but failed to locate Tuite.

When the Crowe family reported her slaying the next morning, Escondido police dismissed Tuite as a suspect and concluded it was an “inside job.” They focused on Stephanie’s brother, Michael, and later two of his friends. Michael Crowe, then 14, spent many hours over two days being interrogated by detectives and ultimately made incriminating statements.

One of his friends also gave Escondido police a confession of sorts after long interrogation sessions, which were videotaped. Crowe and his two friends were set for trial in January 1999, a year after the killing when the case took a dramatic turn.

A red sweatshirt worn by Tuite on the night of the murder – which police confiscated after briefly questioning him – turned out to have several drops of Stephanie’s blood on it. Subsequent testing also revealed her blood on the undershirt worn by Tuite the night of the killing.

The case against Crowe and his friends was dismissed; the San Diego Sheriff took the investigation away from Escondido Police and the state Attorney General’s office took over the prosecution from the county District Attorney’s office.

After eight days of deliberations, jurors convicted Tuite of involuntary manslaughter in what was considered a “compromise verdict,” given his mental illness.

The Crowe family last year won a civil settlement against Escondido Police and others totaling more than $7 million. In addition, a judge last year reviewed all evidence in the case and declared that Michael Crowe was factually innocent of his sister’s homicide.

State prosecutors could not be reached for comment on whether a new trial will be scheduled, or whether Tuite will be released having served about half of his sentence.

He remains for now in state prison.

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