SAN DIEGO — The older brother of 12-year-old Stephanie Crowe, originally charged with her murder, cried as he testified Thursday about seeing his sister’s body lying in her bedroom in their rural Escondido home more than 15 years ago.
Michael Crowe, now 30, testified in a retrial for Richard Tuite.
Tuite, 44, was convicted in 2004 of voluntary manslaughter in Stephanie Crowe’s death six years earlier, 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.
Shortly after the January 1998 murder, Michael Crowe, then 14, along with 15-year-old friends Joshua Treadway and Aaron Houser, were charged with Stephanie’s 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.
Michael Crowe, called to the witness stand by Tuite’s defense team today, testified that he woke up at about 4:30 a.m. on Jan. 21, 1998, walked to the kitchen to take something for a headache, and returned to his bedroom.
He was later awakened by his father’s screams for help.
“I saw my sister on the floor with my mom over her,” Michael Crowe testified. “I just remember not knowing what the heck was going on.”
During questioning from defense attorney Brad Patton, Michael Crowe denied hating his sister and said he wasn’t jealous of her.
The witness also denied telling fellow detainees at Juvenile Hall that he had killed his sister.
Michael Crowe admitted wearing all black at the time and being into fantasy writings about maiming and slaughter.
In her opening statement of trial, Deputy Attorney General Alana Butler told a jury that Tuite was in the area of the Crowe home the night Stephanie Crowe was killed. 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.
In his opening statement, Patton said Tuite was not aggressive toward neighbors the night of the killing, and no one saw him with a weapon.
In addition, police found no signs of forced entry into the Crowe 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.