FRESNO — The third retrial of death row inmate Douglas Ray Stankewitz’s death sentence was pushed to 2015 after his attorney told a Fresno County Superior Court judge Friday that he needed more time to prepare.
More than three decades after Stankewitz was convicted of fatally shooting 22-year-old Theresa Graybeal, whom he kidnapped from Modesto, he is in the Fresno County Jail awaiting his retrial.
The retrial was supposed to begin next spring, but Fresno attorney Richard Beshwate, who took over Stankewitz’s case in January, told Judge Arlan Harrell that he wouldn’t be ready by then.
“There are hundreds of thousands of documents to read,” said Beshwate, who indicated he could be ready for trial by spring 2015.
Instead of setting a trial date, Harrell asked Beshwate and prosecutor Lisa Gamoian to return in late January with a better idea on when Stankewitz will be ready to stand trial.
Another issue was whether Stankewitz remains in the Fresno County Jail until his retrial.
Stankewitz, who grew up on the Big Sandy Rancheria in Auberry, informed Harrell he wants to remain in the county jail to assist Beshwate and be near his supporters. They include Laura Wass, director for the American Indian Movement in Central California, who is also assisting Beshwate. A website devoted to his defense has been set up: www.freechief.org.
Harrell said “it is my intent to send him back” to San Quentin State Prison’s death row and have him return months before the trial.
But Beshwate said returning Stankewitz to death row would be costly because he and his experts will have to travel to the state prison to interview him.
Harrell said he mull over the issue before he rules on whether Stankewitz return to death row until his trial.
Studies show that it costs about $90,000 more a year to house an inmate on California’s death row than in the general prison population, because, in general, death row inmates receive extra security.
At San Quentin State Prison, Stankewitz has his own cell, which has a television and radio, Wass said. He also gets to talk to other death-row inmates.
In the county jail, Stankewitz is isolated from other inmates for his own safety and doesn’t have a television or radio, Assistant Sheriff Tom Gattie said.
Beshwate told Harrell he plans to ask jail officials to upgrade Stankewitz’s accommodations. But in a telephone interview Friday, Gattie said jail staff is already burden with state prisoners. He also said jail staff plan to treat Stankewitz the same as other inmates.
“It’s things like this (Stankewitz’s request to stay here) that have caused the jail population to get backed up,” he said.
Stankewitz, 55, has been on California’s death row longer than any other inmate. He’s here because a federal appellate court in 2012 overturned his death sentence because of incompetent counsel. His former lawyer didn’t tell jurors about Stankewitz’s abusive childhood or potential mental illness.
Though Stankewitz contends he didn’t kill Graybeal, the appellate court declined to reverse his murder conviction. Instead, the appellate court wants a new jury to determine whether he should remain on death row until his execution or spend life in prison without parole.
Courtroom observers on Friday saw a far different person than the young rebel who slugged his attorney during his 1978 trial, talked backed to the judge and escaped from a courthouse holding cell before being recaptured a few days later in Fresno.
During Friday’s hearing, he replied “Good morning” to Harrell and replied, “Yes, your honor” when Harrell asked him questions.
Outside court, Beshwate and Wass, who have studied Stankewitz’s case for 17 years, told reporters that Stankewitz is more mature now, and determined to prove his innocence.
He was 19 on in February 1978 when he and four others from Fresno — Billy Brown, 14, Marlin Lewis, 22, Teena Topping, 19, and Christina Menchaca, 25 — got stranded in Modesto and forced Graybeal into her car and drove off.
In Fresno, they looked for heroin before driving to Vine Avenue and 10th Street. There, according to Brown’s testimony in Stankewitz’s September 1978 trial, Stankewitz raised a gun and shot Graybeal from about one foot away. “Did I drop her or did I drop her?” Brown quoted Stankewitz as saying.
Charges against Brown were dropped for testifying against Stankewitz. Lewis pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. Both are now dead. Menchaca and Topping pleaded guilty to being accessories.
The California Supreme Court tossed Stankewitz’s first death sentence in 1982, but a year later he was convicted again and sentenced again to death. The second death sentence didn’t hold up, either. The U.S. District Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, ruled in October 2012 that Fresno attorney Hugh Goodwin’s “performance fell below the constitutional standards.”
Among the things Goodwin failed to tell jurors, the appellate court said, was that Stankewitz was born into a poverty-stricken, filthy home that had no electricity or running water. His alcoholic parents frequently starved Stankewitz and his nine siblings and beat them.
Goodwin, who went on to become a judge, died in 2004 at age 83.
Outside court Friday, Wass said Stankewitz neither shot Graybeal nor bragged about it. Beshwate told reporters that one of his goals in the pending trial is to prove to jurors that Stankewitz didn’t commit the murder. “If I can get a new trial on the guilt phase, I will,” he said.