Who killed Stephanie Crowe?

ESCONDIDO, Calif. (KGTV) -- It was a murder-mystery that gripped San Diego County. The family of 12-year-old Stephanie Crowe, waking up on the morning of January 21, 1998, to a horrifying discovery.

Stephanie - lying dead on her Escondido bedroom floor in a pool of blood, after being stabbed multiple times.

Her family told detectives they were asleep inside the house when the murder happened and heard nothing. Detectives say they found no signs that someone forced their way inside.

The investigation and court battles that followed would change the way law enforcement collects evidence and performs interrogations.

"It was a case where there were clearly major problems with the investigation," said Brad Patton, Richard Tuite's criminal defense attorney. "The problems with the investigation related to the crime scene."

Patton spoke with 10News on Thursday, nearly 20 years after Stephanie's death. 

He told 10News the problems surround the case were how police collected evidence and how detectives interrogated suspects. Problems that caused the case to turn cold - letting Stephanie's true killer continue to walk the streets in San Diego County. 

 "I don't think the Crowe family will ever get closure," Patton said. 

Who killed Stephanie Crowe?

In the months after her death, Stephanie's 14-year-old brother, Michael and two of his friends would be charged with the murder. A knife was found under the bed of John Treadway. Both he and Stephanie's brother Michael later confessed to detectives during videotaped interrogations.

The boys were subjected to intense, prolonged questioning and deprived of food and sleep. The confessions were later judged to be coerced and the charges were dropped. 

Then, a new suspect. Richard Tuite. He was a transient and diagnosed schizophrenic. Brad Patton was his defense attorney. 

Tuite was seen in the Escondido neighborhood that night - banging on doors, looking for an old girlfriend. Most damning of all, he was seen wearing a sweatshirt with Stephanie's blood on it. 

"Mr. Tuite could not, did not, go into that house. There was no forensic evidence of him being in that house," Patton said. 

There were no hairs, no fibers, no DNA. Tuite claimed he found the sweatshirt while dumpster-diving. 

Tuite was convicted and would spend more than a decade behind bars. Then, he got an appeal.  An appeal where he was found not guilty of voluntary manslaughter. 

Stephanie's parents never suspected her brother. Years ago, her mom had this to say to 10News, after Tuite was cleared:

"I just hope that North County is aware that he's going to be out walking the streets and that people lock their doors."

The murder of Stephanie Crowe is still unsolved.

Patton says there's only one way he sees the mystery solved. 

"You're probably never going to find the actual killer unless that person comes forward at some time," he said. 

The Crowe family has since moved to the Pacific Northwest. Patton is now living in the South Bay.
    

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