San Diego Jury Finds Richard Tuite Not Guilty In Retrial For The Murder Of Stephanie Crowe
On Midday Edition Friday - Roundtable, journalists discuss the implications of the ruling
Originally published December 6, 2013 at 10:05 a.m., updated December 6, 2013 at 11:32 a.m.
Richard Raymond Tuite was found not guilty Friday by a San Diego Superior Court jury of killing 12-year-old Stephanie Crowe of Escondido.
The not guilty verdict of voluntary manslaughter overturns Tuite's original conviction in the notorious homicide case dating to January 1998. Tuite was first convicted of killing Crowe in May 2004.
Following six weeks of testimony in the courtroom of Judge Frederic Link, jurors spent just one day in deliberating Tuite’s fate. He was sentenced to 17 years in the original case.
During the trial, witnesses placed Tuite at the Crowe home on the north edge of Escondido at the time of the crime. Drops of Crowe’s blood were eventually discovered on a red sweatshirt and on a San Diego jail undershirt that he wore the night of the killing.
The case generated a local and national media frenzy after Crowe’s brother Michael, then 15, and two of his friends were originally charged and jailed for the crime after making incriminating statements following coercive interrogations by Escondido Police detectives.
After serving more than half of a 17-year sentence for killing young Crowe, Tuite was given a new trial in one of the San Diego region’s most notorious criminal cases.
It happened when the U.S. Supreme Court declined last year 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 in 2011, 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.
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.
Tuite has been in custody since 1999; arrested originally on a burglary charge a year after the Crowe slaying.