SAN DIEGO -
A transient whose conviction in the killing of 12-year-old Stephanie Crowe was reversed by a federal appeals court will be retried on a voluntary manslaughter charge, a prosecutor told a judge Wednesday.
Starting to gray in his full beard and long hair, 43-year-old Richard Tuite had been serving a 17-year prison sentence when the appeals court last year reversed his 2004 manslaughter conviction, ruling the trial was unfair because a judge limited cross-examination of a prosecution witness.
Tuite -- currently held without bail -- was also convicted of bribery and escape charges.
Supervising Deputy Attorney General Jim Dutton, whose office is prosecuting the case, said Tuite would still have time to serve -- until about 2017 -- under his original sentence.
"Because of the seriousness of the crime and public safety, we are proceeding (with a retrial)," Dutton told reporters.
Hundreds of miles north of San Diego, the victim's mother sighed during a phone interview that there's no justice for Stephanie.
Cheryl Crowe told 10News, "Stephanie, I mean, she would probably just cringe if she knew what was going on. It's just crazy. So scary, I mean, for people who have little kids in the North County or live in the San Diego area."
She blamed the justice system for letting them down.
After Stephanie was found stabbed to death in January 1998, Escondido police investigators focused their attention on her 14-year-old brother, Michael, and two friends, Joshua Treadway and Aaron Houser.
The boys were charged with murder, but those charges were dismissed by the District Attorney's Office just before trial when the victim's blood was found on a shirt Tuite was wearing the night of the killing.
Dutton said the case against Tuite was thoroughly investigated, leading to a trial that lasted three months.
Tuite's attorney, Brad Patton, said justice has been served because Tuite's conviction was reversed.
He said the reversal was appropriate because of the evidence the defense was not allowed to present.
"Richard Tuite did not commit this crime," Patton said. "So we're back to square one."
Patton said Tuite is happy the conviction was set aside, but realizes he will remain in custody because some bail will be set in the case. A bail review is set for Nov. 2, when the case could be assigned to a judge for retrial.
"There is no question that somebody else did this," Patton told reporters. "The evidence is clear that it was done by somebody who was aware of the interior set-up of the house."
Patton said the bloody shirt was contaminated because it was stored with other evidence from the crime scene.
In the retrial, Patton said he will name Michael Crowe, Treadway and Houser as Stephanie's alleged killers.
One key would be a confession by Joshua Treadway -- long before the high-pressure questioning by detectives that later sparked a TV movie "The Interrogation of Michael Crowe."
Patton said, "(He) gave a detailed account of how this murder occurred, his participation, Michael calling him, saying, 'Tonight is the night. Go to Aaron's house.' He described the knife, he described what everybody was wearing, how the crime was committed and there was no duress, no coercion of any kind in that confession."
Patton said Tuite will be acquitted of voluntary manslaughter if the case goes to trial, but doesn't believe anyone will ever be brought to justice for the girl's murder.
"I think Richard will be found not guilty if this case goes to trial," Patton said. "I think this is going to be the big question mark in the San Diego judicial criminal system forevermore."
Earlier this year, a judge found Michael Crowe factually innocent of his sister's murder. Patton said that ruling will have no merit for Tuite's retrial.