SAN DIEGO - A transient who was going door-to-door looking for a female friend in rural Escondido wandered into the home of a 12-year-old girl in 1998 and stabbed her to death, a prosecutor said Wednesday, but a defense attorney said there was reasonable doubt and pointed the finger at the victim's brother and two teenage friends.
Jurors began deliberations late Wednesday afternoon in the retrial of Richard Tuite, who was previously found guilty in 2004 of voluntary manslaughter in the Jan. 20, 1998, death of Stephanie Crowe. 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.
Deputy Attorney General Alana Butler said in his closing argument that Tuite, 44, was in the area of the Crowe home the night Stephanie was killed, knocking on doors and looking for a woman named Tracy.
"He was angry. He was obsessed and delusional," Butler told the jury.
Butler said the victim's blood was found on a long-sleeve red shirt and a white T-shirt that Tuite was wearing when he was contacted by police the next day.
The prosecutor said Tuite wandered into the Crowe home about 10 p.m. through an open door, went into Stephanie's bedroom and stabbed her at least nine times.
"This is where proximity meets opportunity," Butler said. "Once he got in the house, I can't tell you exactly what happened there."
Butler said Tuite was "not well" and was angry at Tracy because she had turned him away a couple years earlier.
"He just couldn't stop thinking about Tracy," the prosecutor said. "He couldn't handle it."
Butler said the theory that Stephanie's older brother, Michael, and friends Joshua Treadway and Aaron Houser were responsible for her death was not a reasonable interpretation of the evidence and should be rejected.
"There is no credible motive for these boys to commit these crimes. Tuite? Yes," said Butler.
But Tuite's attorney, Brad Patton, told the jury that his client was not guilty because Butler hadn't proven the case beyond a reasonable doubt.
Patton said Tuite had never been in the Crowe house and wouldn't have been able to find Stephanie's bedroom in the dark home. In addition, Patton said, investigators did not find Tuite's fingerprints or DNA in the residence.
"There was no trace evidence of Mr. Tuite being in the house; no fingerprints, no hair. You've seen the pictures. He's a transient; scraggly dude with a long beard and long hair," said Patton.
Patton said Stephanie must have been held down under a comforter to keep her quiet while another person stabbed her.
The attorney said Treadway told police that Houser gave him the knife used to kill Stephanie and told him to get rid of it.
Patton told the jury that it was not responsible for determining if the boys committed the crime, but said it did raise doubt as to whether Tuite killed the victim.
"The fact of the matter is, Mr. Tuite did not do this crime," Patton said.
Michael Crowe, Treadway and Houser were charged with murder in 1998. The District Attorney's Office later dropped all charges against the boys just before trial when Stephanie's blood was found on Tuite's shirts.
A judge ruled that so-called confessions from the boys were coerced by Escondido police and an assisting Oceanside officer under harsh interrogation tactics.