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Steven Edward Crittenden - California
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Thread: Steven Edward Crittenden - California

  1. #1
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    Oct 2010

    Steven Edward Crittenden - California

    Summary of Offense:

    On June 13, 1989, a former Cal State Chico football player was sentenced to death in Placer County (on a change of venue from Butte County) for the torture murders of a couple during a January 13, 1987 robbery. Steven Crittenden was convicted by a jury in Auburn of murdering Dr. William Chiappella, 68, and his wife, Katherine, 67, who were bound and gagged, then stabbed and beaten in their Chico home. Placer County Superior Court Judge James Garbolino accepted the jury's recommendation that Crittenden be put to death despite defense attorney Don Blake's contention that only one person had received the death penalty in six neighboring counties in recent years.

  2. #2
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    Oct 2010
    On August 20, 2010, the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals granted a Certificate of Appealability to Crittenden due to a Batson claim.

    Opinion is here:


  3. #3
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    Oct 2010
    August 21, 2010

    Judge to Revisit Race Issue in Chico murder appeal

    Attorneys for an African-American man sentenced to death 23 years ago for the gruesome slayings of a white Chico couple have convinced a federal appellate court that recent case law may validate their argument that race motivated the prosecutor's removal of the only African American in the jury pool.

    A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday sent part of Steven Edward Crittenden's appeal back to Sacramento for U.S. District Judge Frank C. Damrell Jr. to reconsider in light of a 9th Circuit opinion earlier this year.

    That opinion, Cook v. LaMarque, sets forth the standard to be applied to the question of whether a prosecutor's reason for excusing a prospective juror was race-neutral. The juror in this case said in pretrial questioning she was opposed to the death penalty, and the prosecutor maintains that was his main reason for excusing her.

    But the appellate panel noted that Damrell "did not have the benefit of Cook when (he) last addressed the question" five years ago.

    Crittenden, now 42, was found guilty of beating and stabbing to death William Chiapella and his wife, Katherine, in their Chico home in January 1987. The trial was moved from Butte to Placer County because of pretrial publicity.


  4. #4
    Senior Member CnCP Legend JLR's Avatar
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    Mar 2011
    Verdict overturned for California Death Row inmate in decades-old slaying

    On the morning of Jan. 13, 1987, Steven Edward Crittenden borrowed a knife from his roommate, saying he needed it to repair a stereo and would return it the next day.

    Crittenden, then a student-athlete at California State University, Chico, left and would later say he went to the gym.

    Authorities say he went to rob Dr. William Chiapella and his wife, Katherine, who had hired him three months earlier to do yard work. By that afternoon, the couple were dead.

    William Chiapella, 67, was stabbed 13 times. He had been gagged with a sock, his head covered with a pillowcase and his hands bound behind his back with strips of bed sheet. Katherine, 66, was found bound and gagged with a blanket over her head, dead from at least two stab wounds and bludgeoning of her head and face with a fire extinguisher.

    Knives were left sticking out of both bodies. On mirrors in two bathrooms, the words “Just the beginning” were scrawled in lipstick.

    After his arrest, Crittenden made three escape attempts and eventually was moved to the state prison in Folsom. The case was so shocking that it was the subject of two efforts to move it to a new jurisdiction. The trial eventually was moved to Auburn, where Crittenden was convicted in 1989 and sentenced to death.

    Last Monday, after Crittenden, now 46, had spent 24 years on San Quentin’s death row, his conviction and sentence were tossed out. A federal judge in Sacramento faulted the prosecutor’s dismissal of the only African American in the jury pool and ordered the state to either start moving toward a retrial or set Crittenden, who is also African American, free within 60 days.

    The decision has stirred outrage in Butte County, where the brutality of the slayings is still remembered and where the couple’s son, who found their bodies, is now a prominent physician. He declined to comment to The Sacramento Bee.

    “I am shocked and appalled,” Butte County District Attorney Michael Ramsay said this week. “I had to go to his son, who is also a doctor, and tell him about this.

    “He just kept saying, ‘I don’t understand. I don’t understand.’ To even think that this monster could get out is frightening. He tortured and butchered those people.”

    Crittenden’s two current attorneys have worked on his appeal since their appointments by a federal judge in 1996. One of them, Mark Goldrosen of San Francisco, said U.S. District Judge Kimberley J. Mueller made the correct decision.

    “Judge Mueller truly followed the law,” Goldrosen said. “Nevertheless, under the circumstances, it was a courageous ruling.”

    He said Crittenden is “obviously thrilled and very excited. He now has much more confidence in the ability of the judicial system to come up with a fair result.” Goldrosen declined to allow his client to speak to The Bee.

    The decision promises to rekindle questions about whether Crittenden received a fair trial in the deaths of the Chiapellas, who were white and considered pillars of the Chico community.

    The question of race has hovered over the case since before Crittenden’s conviction by a Placer County jury of seven women and five men. The jurors was selected from a panel of 50, and the only African American in that group was removed from consideration by prosecutor Gerald E. Flanagan using one of his 26 peremptory strikes.

    Flanagan testified in federal court during the course of the appeal that he has no recollection of the circumstances under which he struck the African American woman from the pool. Trial judge James D. Garbolino, now retired, and U.S. Magistrate Judge Gregory G. Hollows were satisfied Flanagan acted more out of concern for the woman’s negative feelings about the death penalty than the color of her skin.

    But Mueller concluded that Flanagan “was motivated, consciously or unconsciously, in substantial part by race.”

    Flanagan, who was chief deputy in the Butte County District Attorney’s Office at the time of the trial, declined to comment.

    Ramsay said the California attorney general’s office has assured him Mueller’s ruling will be taken to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and, if necessary, to the U.S. Supreme Court.

    “This is Monday morning quarterbacking of the worst kind,” Ramsay said. “It’s trying to read a prosecutor’s mind 25 years later by someone who wasn’t there. The judge who was there and watched the entire jury selection said race played no part. You couldn’t find someone less racist that Jerry Flanagan if you tried.”

    “This is the type of ruling,” Ramsay added, “that gives credence to critics that say California’s death penalty system is broken.”

    Suspicions about whether Crittenden was targeted by police because of his race linger among some in the Chico area, where feelings ran high in the aftermath of the gruesome crime. Willie Hyman, head of the Butte Community Coalition, a group that tracks racism, calls the area “the Mississippi of Northern California” and insists Crittenden is not guilty.

    “It’s the way black people in the county were treated, because the Caucasian family that was murdered was very well known and loved by people,” Hyman said.

    The prosecution conceded that its case was almost entirely circumstantial, but said the evidence was extraordinarily strong. Jurors deliberated 17 hours over a four-day period before agreeing Crittenden should be put to death. It was the overwhelming brutality of the slayings, as depicted in photos presented to the panel, that tilted the scales, one juror told a Bee reporter at the time.

    “Every time I saw those photographs, they about made me sick,” juror Gisela Clark said after the verdict. “The cruelty of it was unbelievable.”

    Crittenden had been a standout athlete in high school in Fairfield and, at 6-feet-4 inches and 180 pounds, was a natural for the Chico State football team. The plan was to use him as a defensive back. Evidence presented in court showed he had money problems as a student and was falling behind on bills, including apartment rent, at the time the Chiapellas were slain.

    The couple’s bodies were not found until Jan. 17, 1987, four days after authorities said they were killed.

    Two days before the murders, Crittenden called his landlord and told her he would be able to pay all his past-due rent by the 14th, according to court documents.

    On Jan. 14, he went to the Chiapellas’ bank in Chico with a $3,000 check signed by Katherine Chiapella and cashed it, then began paying off his bills and paid his rent six months in advance, witnesses would later testify.

    Police said they found Crittenden’s thumbprint on an ATM slip in the Chiapellas’ study, matched a footprint in the couple’s home to one of his black tennis shoes, and matched bed sheets used to bind the couple with strawberry-patterned sheets in Crittenden’s apartment.

    When he was arrested, he told detectives the check from Katherine Chiapella was for a sexual encounter he had with her on Jan. 9 at the Thunderbird Lodge in room 96. Court documents note that, “tellingly, there was no room 96 at the motel,” and prosecutors called the claim a “fantastic fiction” to hide the fact that he had tortured her to get the check written.

    Crittenden’s girlfriend at the time said he returned home the afternoon of the slayings “his normal, happy self” and told her of a $3,000 windfall they could use to pay their bills.

    The girlfriend, who married Crittenden in jail as he awaited trial, later divorced him and has since remarried. She declined to comment about the case.

    But, she testified, the night the Chiapellas were killed she and Crittenden treated themselves to a movie. They went to “The Morning After,” a 1986 Jane Fonda film about a woman who wakes from a drunken night next to a man who has been stabbed to death.


  5. #5
    This is yet another example of why the power of federal judges needs to be reigned in. This Obama appointee presumes and assumes the modern day liberal posture that any Black convicted of anything must have been convicted because of his or her race, and not because of the evidence! This judge even presumed to know the "unconscious" motives of the prosecutor in excusing a black from service on the jury.

    This is also a prime example of our lack of courage to swiftly carry out executions in cases of clear guilt after all due process avenues have been swiftly pursued. 24 years on death row at taxpayer expense? This killer should have been executed years ago for his crime.

    How absurd.

  6. #6
    Administrator Heidi's Avatar
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    Oct 2010
    Race, murder roil Chico

    For nearly 25 years, Steven Crittenden has been condemned to death row at San Quentin State Prison for the gruesome 1987 murder of a prominent Chico couple in their home. Since the day of his arrest, Crittenden has looked for a way to escape, first briefly breaking out of the Butte County Jail prior to his trial, and through endless appeals since he was sent to prison.

    Crittenden, 45, is now closer to freedom than ever. And it has nothing to do with whether he killed the affable town doctor and his wife.

    A federal judge in Sacramento recently overturned his 1989 conviction based on a technicality in a trial that at the time sparked racial tensions in the overwhelmingly white town some 90 miles north of Sacramento.

    The lawyers for Crittenden, a black man from Fairfield, successfully argued that a prosecutor showed racial bias when he dismissed the only black prospective juror.

    Prosecutors said they dismissed the prospective juror because it was a death-penalty case and she did not believe in the death penalty.

    But San Francisco attorney Mark Goldrosen called the dismissal of the lone black prospective juror in a primarily white town "outrageous," particularly when the woman did not express more reservations about the death penalty than white jurors who were selected.

    Crittenden was ordered to be released or retried.

    The Butte County District Attorney's Office calls the bias claim "insane."

    It was the case of a black man accused of murdering a well-to-do white couple, but in Chico, the dynamics were much more than that.

    Idyllic small town

    Chico is an idyllic small town, with tree-lined streets, quaint shops and a picturesque university in the middle of it all.

    The city and Cal State Chico have a party-hard reputation, which has proven difficult to rebrand since Playboy awarded Cal State Chico the dubious title as the nation's No.1 party school in 1987. That same month, fear and outrage struck the campus when Crittenden, a well-liked football player at Cal State Chico, was accused in a double murder. 3 years before, Crittenden had helped Vanden High School in Fairfield win a state basketball championship.

    "At first, it was, 'No way,' " said Charles Carter, director of the Cross-Cultural Leadership Center at Cal State Chico, a longtime staff member and former student at the university. "Then the evidence came out, and it was like, What's wrong with this guy? And what does this mean for us?"

    The tiny African American population in Chico wondered whether the community would unfairly judge them for Crittenden's heinous act, said Carter, who is black.

    "It had a big impact on the African American community," Carter said. "People felt sick and disgusted by what happened."

    In an instant, Crittenden's crime erased years of progress in healing tensions stemming from another murder exactly eight years before.

    3 people from nearby Oroville murdered Jimmy Lee Campbell in Chico after driving around looking for a black person to shoot. The case made national headlines, and, Carter remembers, the Chico community spoke out, saying such cowardly racism was unacceptable. The town was healing and moving in a positive direction, Carter said.

    "The Crittenden case tipped it back the other way," Carter said. "I'm not sure we've made it back."

    Carter said minority students still tell him they experience racism in the community.

    Racial tensions

    Cal State Chico has 15,000 full-time students. Fewer than 2 percent are black, 19 percent are Hispanic and 55 percent are white. Although the university has long emphasized recruiting minorities, it has proved a very difficult sell given the demographics of the surrounding town. Chico's population of 88,000 is 81 % white, 15 % Hispanic and 2 % black.

    "It was a big shock going to Chico compared to Richmond and the Bay Area," said Joseph Igbineweka, a Nigeria-born man who graduated from Cal State Chico in 2010. "I had a great experience. There was only 1 blemish."

    Igbineweka, who had come to Chico from Kennedy High School in Richmond, was stabbed 5 times late one night in 2010 in Chico. He was the university's student body president at the time, and police initially called the incident a hate crime because of racial slurs yelled by the man convicted of the stabbing. Police later decided that it was not a hate crime, and Igbineweka agrees.

    "Overall, the city is a welcoming place," said Igbineweka of Chico.

    Igbineweka now works in Concord. He has lingering pain and numbness from the attack, particularly in his left hand.

    Tray Robinson, director of Cal State Chico's diversity programs, said he's seen "vast improvements" in how minority students are treated in Chico in the past 20 years. He credits school and community leaders with making it a priority.

    "We still have a lot of work to do," Robinson said.

    Horrific murder

    It wasn't just murder. It was torture, prosecutors argued successfully. William and Katherine Chiapella, who were in their late 60s, were gagged and bound with a strawberry-patterned cloth similar to sheets found in Crittenden's room.

    They were beaten and stabbed with such force that a large knife was driven completely into William Chiapella's chest, with the handle not visible. Crittenden was arrested in the murders and attempted to escape from jail 3 times. He escaped successfully once from Butte County Jail before his trial, but was caught.

    He pleaded not guilty, saying he had never been to the Chiapella home.

    The Chiapellas, described as pillars of the community, had previously hired Crittenden to do yard work at $4.50 per hour, but he didn't show up.

    And when he did show up, prosecutors argued, it was for another reason.

    Prosecutors convinced the jury that Crittenden was behind on his rent and fighting with his live-in girlfriend when he went on a murderous rampage at the Chiapellas' home on Downing Street in an upper-middle-class neighborhood across from an elementary school.

    The Chiapellas' bodies were discovered by their son, Joseph, who is a doctor in Chico.

    The evidence prosecutors presented at trial won the case: Crittenden's thumbprint on a desk. A footprint in the home that matched a pair of shoes found in Crittenden's room. A $3,000 check Crittenden cashed from Katherine Chiapella the day after the murders. He told police the check was for a sexual arrangement he had with Katherine Chiapella, a claim that the district attorney likened to spitting on the woman's grave.

    "This was a really strong case then," said Ramsey, who became district attorney in 1987, the same year the Chiapellas were murdered.

    The appeals

    Over the past 17 years, Crittenden's lawyers have filed numerous appeals claiming that he did not receive a fair trial.

    In one unsuccessful appeal, lawyers argued that counsel during the trial should have conceded Crittenden's guilt and instead argued that the murders were not intentional. In that appeal, Crittenden's lawyers said counsel should have argued that he intended only to commit a burglary and was surprised when the couple unexpectedly returned home.

    But in the end, the appeal that won the retrial had nothing to do with heat of the moment or impulse control.

    It was about racial bias.

    "If race hadn't played a role, we wouldn't be retrying this," said Goldrosen, a federally appointed lawyer.

    Juror question

    Crittenden's case now comes down to 1 question: Why was the only black prospective juror dismissed?

    U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller ruled in September that former chief deputy Jerry Flanagan of the Butte County District Attorney's Office improperly dismissed the only black prospective juror substantially due to her race, whether "consciously or unconsciously."

    Flanagan declined to comment. Ramsey said the judge's ruling essentially called Flanagan a racist when "that man doesn't have a prejudiced bone in his body."

    Ramsey said he will seek a retrial, although prosecutors hope to delay it until after the case is taken to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Goldrosen said he plans to oppose any delays in the retrial. Judge Mueller is expected to make a decision by early next year on whether the retrial will begin before the Ninth Circuit ruling.

    From there, Ramsey said, one side is likely to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

    Ramsey said that if there is a retrial, he will seek a reverse change of venue, moving the case from Placer County, where the original case was tried, back to Butte County.

    "We have a whole demographic of people under the age of 30 or 40 who haven't heard of this case," Ramsey said. "In terms of jury selection, our ... minority population is larger than Placer County."

    (source: San Francisco Chronicle)
    An uninformed opponent is a dangerous opponent.

    "Y'all be makin shit up" ~ Markeith Loyd

  7. #7
    Senior Member Member AdamSmith's Avatar
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    Sep 2013
    Santa Cruz Calif USA
    Looks like no choice. There needs to be a retrial.

    Double murder for robbery is in California a special circumstances death penalty case. Straightforward.

    This time, put at least 1 or 2 black jurors on the trial, a man and a woman. That should cover all the bases.

    If I were accused of killing a black person, I sure would not want an all black jury. No kidding.

  8. #8
    Administrator Moh's Avatar
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    Oct 2010
    On November 14, 2013, the State of California filed an appeal in the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.


  9. #9
    Administrator Moh's Avatar
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    Oct 2010
    Wheels of Justice Slowed in Crittenden Double Murder Re-trial

    Another delay in the Steven Crittenden double murder re-trial request. Today, one of the attorneys for Crittenden, Jeff Thoma, challenged the judge in the case, which is currently being held in Placer County.

    Crittenden is accused of brutally robbing and killing Dr. William and Katherine Chiapella of Chico in their home in 1987.

    The elderly couple had hired Crittenden, a Chico State football player at the time, to do yard work. They were found, bludgeoned, bound, gagged and tortured inside their home.

    The trial was originally moved to Placer County because of the publicity and now, the Butte County District Attorney's Office is trying to get it moved back.

    A federal judge in Sacramento overturned the guilty verdicts last October and asked that Crittenden, who is black, be retried because the only black juror in the jury pool was excused from the trial.

    The prosecutor, Jerry Flanagan, released that juror because she vehemently opposed the death penalty.

    Crittenden is currently on death row in San Quentin. The case will reconvene May 14th with a new judge to hear the motion for the change of venue.


  10. #10
    Administrator Moh's Avatar
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    Oct 2010
    On December 15, 2014, oral argument will be heard before the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in the State of California's appeal over the district court's grant of Crittenden's habeas corpus petition based on a violation of Batson v. Kentucky.

    The panel will be made up of Berzon (Clinton), Fisher (Clinton) and McKeown (Clinton).


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