SAN DIEGO — A drifter obsessed with finding a female friend in rural Escondido wandered into the home of a 12-year-old girl and fatally stabbed her, a prosecutor said Sunday, but a defense attorney blamed the killing on the victim’s jealous 14-year-old brother and two of his teenage buddies.
Richard Tuite, 44, was convicted in 2004 of voluntary manslaughter in the 1998 death of Stephanie Crowe, but a federal appeals court reversed the conviction in 2011, saying Tuite didn’t get a fair trial because a judge limited cross-examination of a prosecution witness.
Tuite, in a retrial expected to last five to six weeks, faces the same charge of manslaughter.
In her opening statement Thursday, Deputy Attorney General Alana Butler told a jury that Tuite was in the area of the Crowe home the night Stephanie Crowe was killed, Jan. 20, 1998. Investigators later found the victim’s blood on Tuite’s shirt and the defendant had items in his pockets from inside the Crowe residence when he was stopped and questioned the next day, Butler said.
Butler said Tuite exhibited “obsessive, delusional and rage-filled behavior” the night of the killing, knocking on doors at homes near the victim’s house looking for a friend named “Tracy.”
In one church parking lot, Tuite said, “You (expletive) bitch. I’m going to kill you,” according to Butler.
Another resident said Tuite was acting “extremely erratic” when he came to his door, the prosecutor said.
Butler said Stephanie Crowe’s parents were in bed by 9:30 p.m. that night. Both said they thought they heard thumping and bumping sounds during the night, Butler told the jury.
Stephanie Crowe’s grandmother found her body about 6:30 a.m. the next day. She had been stabbed nine times.
“This is every parent’s nightmare,” the prosecutor said. Medical examiners estimate the victim’s time of death between 10 and 10:30 p.m., Butler said.
The prosecutor said investigators focused on Stephanie Crowe’s brother, Michael, believing he was jealous of his high-achieving sister.
Eventually, Michael Crowe and his then-15-year-old friends, Joshua Treadway and Aaron Houser, were charged with murder.
The District Attorney’s Office later dropped all charges against the boys just before trial when Stephanie’s blood was found on a red shirt Tuite was wearing the night of the killing and a white shirt he had on underneath. A judge ruled that so-called confessions from the boys were coerced under harsh interrogation tactics by Escondido police and an assisting Oceanside police officer.
In his opening statement, defense attorney Brad Patton said Tuite was not aggressive toward neighbors the night of the killing, and no one saw him with a weapon.
Patton said Michael Crowe was isolated, played violent video games and was jealous of his sister Stephanie.
“Michael Crowe had a jealousy and a hatred for his sister,” Patton told the jury.
After his arrest, Michael Crowe told others in the juvenile lockup that he killed his sister, according to Patton.
In addition, Treadway told police that Houser was obsessed with killing and offered to help Michael Crowe if he was serious about killing Stephanie, Patton said.
The night of the killing, Michael Crowe and Houser went into Stephanie’s bedroom and Treadway was told to be a lookout, Patton said.
Police found no signs of forced entry into the home, Patton said.
He said investigators at the crime scene failed to wear booties as they walked through the crime scene and could have contaminated evidence by transferring blood onto Tuite’s shirts.
Patton told the jury that Tuite didn’t kill Stephanie, saying that prosecutors wouldn’t be able to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.
The families of Michael Crowe, Treadway and Houser won a federal civil rights lawsuit against the cities of Escondido and Oceanside on grounds they were denied their rights against self-incrimination and false arrest. In late 2011, the Crowe family settled a suit for $7.25 million and in early 2012, a judge officially declared the boys factually innocent of the crime.