Ex-handyman sentenced to death for killing three tourists

Friday, December 13, 2002

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- A former motel handyman was sentenced to death Thursday for murdering three Yosemite National Park tourists in 1999.

Cary Stayner, 41, was ordered to die by lethal injection in state prison, a fate that could be decades away on the nation's most congested death row. The case was automatically appealed.

Judge Thomas Hastings became emotional and abruptly left the bench before imposing the death sentence reached by a jury in October. Victims' family members and jurors who had returned to the courtroom also wept.

Hastings rejected defense claims that juror misconduct prevented a fair trial and said there was overwhelming evidence against Stayner. He said the killings took a devastating emotional toll that justified execution.

Stayner was convicted of murdering Carole Sund, 42, her daughter, Juli, 15, and their Argentine friend, Silvina Pelosso, 16, during a trip to Yosemite in February 1999. The jury rejected the insanity defense.

"I've never seen anything that's so close to black and white and evil and good as Stayner and our children," said Francis Carrington, the father of Carole Sund and grandfather of Juli. "I'm so proud of the way Carole and Juli lived, and I'm so ashamed of Stayner."

At the trial that ended in October, Stayner's defense introduced evidence of brain damage and numerous mental problems.

Stayner's father, Delbert Stayner, said outside court Thursday that his son was deprived of a fair trial by a "kangaroo court" and a judge who ignored defense arguments.

The investigation was still open when Stayner was questioned in the July 1999 death of nature guide Joie Armstrong, whose headless body was found near her cabin in the park.

In a tape-recorded confession that lasted hours, Stayner discussed how he had fantasized about killing and saw opportunity when the tourists were alone in their room at the Cedar Lodge, where he worked.

Stayner tricked his way into the room, bound the three with duct tape and then killed them, strangling the mother and Pelosso and then molesting Juli before driving her to a reservoir in the Sierra Nevada foothills and slashing her throat.

The bodies were found more than month later.

Until Stayner confessed, the FBI had considered the primary suspects to be a group of methamphetamine users in Modesto, who were jailed on other charges.

Stayner, 41, who is serving a life sentence in federal prison for killing Armstrong, is under an order to be returned to federal custody, defense lawyer Marcia Morrissey said.

But a spokesman for the state Department of Corrections said the harsher sentence will probably force Stayner to be transferred to state custody.

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