SAN DIEGO — Fifteen years after the fatal stabbing of 12-year-old Stephanie Crowe in her family’s Escondido home, the retrial of the man convicted of her murder has started in the San Diego Superior Court.
Richard Raymond Tuite, 44, was convicted of voluntary manslaughter for the crime and sentenced to 13 years in prison plus four more years for his escape from custody during the trial in 2004.
Tuite was granted a retrial after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that an error occurred during his original trial.
During opening arguments of the new case on Oct. 25, the prosecution and the defense returned to the two theories of what happened the night of the murder originally presented in Tuite’s initial trial. The prosecution argued that Tuite, a mentally ill, homeless man, killed Stephanie in a spontaneous attack, while the defense put forth that Stephanie’s 14-year-old brother Michael had plotted and carried out her murder with two teenage friends.
On January 20, 1998, Stephanie was stabbed nine times in her own bed in the middle of the night. Her blood-covered body was found the next morning on the floor of her bedroom doorway by her grandmother, who woke to the sounds of the girl’s unanswered alarm.
According to Deputy Attorney General Alana Butler, Tuite had been identified by three neighbors who saw him wandering around the Crowe’s neighborhood and knocking on doors asking for a woman named “Tracy” the night of the murder. Butler told the jury that his “obsessive, rage-filled, delusional behavior” led Tuite to break into the Crowe home and kill Stephanie as her family slept.
Police arrested Tuite the day after Stephanie’s death, and collected his clothing, took his photo, and collected hair samples and fingernail scrapings. They released Tuite that same day.
The police’s original examination of Tuite’s clothing found no trace of Stephanie’s blood, though subsequent retesting of his clothing found traces of her blood on his red shirt, according to court documents.
Butler stated that she would be presenting evidence revealing the bloodstains found on Tuite’s clothing during the trial.
Bradley Patton, Tuite’s defense attorney, put forth that Michael, jealous of his sister’s popularity, had killed his sister in a planned attack with the help of his two friends, Joshua Treadway and Aaron Houser.
In his opening statements, Patton portrayed Michael as an introverted teenager who wore all black, earned poor grades and hid in his room to play violent video games. He said that Michael was jealous of his younger sister, who was social and earned top marks.
Patton stated that he would present evidence that the knife police had found underneath Treadway’s bed, which belonged to Houser, matched Stephanie’s stab wounds.
Patton asserted that Tuite’s shirt had been contaminated with traces of Stephanie’s blood when the police used the same camera on a tripod that had been at the crime scene uncovered to photograph Tuite’s clothing.
Escondido Police initially focused their investigation on Michael and his two friends, and obtained confessions after lengthy interrogations. The three were indicted for the murder months later, but the case was dismissed in February 1999.
The Crowe’s recently won a lawsuit against law enforcement that investigated Michael to have Michael’s name officially cleared.
Last year, a panel of three judges of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that Tuite’s original trial, which began in 2002, was unjust.
The panel cited a letter that was withheld from the jury as the basis for their decision.
Judge Frederic Link is presiding over the trial, and said the trial is anticipated to last approximately six weeks.