Jury selection begins in retrial for Richard Tuite, who is suspected in death of Stephanie Crowe

SAN DIEGO - Jury selection got underway Tuesday for the retrial of a schizophrenic drifter whose conviction in the 1998 killing of a 12-year-old Escondido girl was reversed by a federal appeals court.

Richard Tuite, 44, faces the retrial on a charge of voluntary manslaughter in the death of Stephanie Crowe.

Jury selection resumes Wednesday and opening statements could happen as early as Thursday.

The defendant has remained in custody since the 2011 reversal because of the pending retrial. He had been serving a 17-year prison sentence when the appeals court reversed his 2004 manslaughter conviction, ruling the trial was unfair because a judge limited cross-examination of a prosecution witness.

"This case will be more difficult for the prosecution this time around because this time, the playing field is fair," said Gretchen Von Helms, a San Diego defense attorney who is not involved in the case.

Tuite is accused of stabbing Stephanie to death in January 1998 because she resembled a girl with whom he was obsessed.

Tuite was known to frequent the area around the Crowe home. Escondido police detained Tuite in the neighborhood and collected his clothes shortly after the killing but let him go as investigators focused their attention on Stephanie's then-14-year-old brother, Michael, and his then-15-year-old friends, Joshua Treadway and Aaron Houser.

The boys were eventually charged with murder.

The District Attorney's Office later dropped all charges against the boys just before trial when Stephanie's blood was found on a shirt Tuite was wearing the night of the killing. A judge ruled so-called confessions from the boys were coerced under harsh interrogation tactics by Escondido police and an assisting Oceanside police officer.

The families of all three boys later 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.

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