The Murder of Stephanie Crowe

We all know the cases that will never be solved or at the very least end in a conviction in a court of law.... Nichole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman... JonBenet Ramsey... Caylee Anthony.  I truly believe we can add the murder of Stephanie Crowe to this list.  While the JonBenet case has never been in front of a jury, in attempts to hold someone responsible, the other three have. I have different opinions on each case as to why this is the case.  

In the Simpson/Goldman murders I believe the prosecution lost that case.  I know there is a difference of opinion as to whether the right defendant was brought to trial, in fact, Investigation Discovery is airing a mini-series this week just on this subject.  I have always been of the belief that O.J. Simpson was involved in some manner in that killing, whether he was the actual perpetrator is more of a question.  I believe it is possible that he was there, but there's also the possibility that he was not but had the murders done and believed that he would escape a prosecution regardless and allowed it to look as if he was there. I believe the prosecution made grave mistakes not just in their presentation but also in their confidence in their evidence and failed to put every inch of evidence they had in front of a court.

In the Caylee Anthony case, again, I believe the correct defendant was brought to trial.  This case has always bungled me in the fact that I did feel the prosecution did everything possible and presented everything they possibly could. In the end jurors stated they could not convict because the prosecution did not have a true cause of death.  I truly felt that was a cop-out considering all the other evidence the prosecution had and they could not give a true cause of death considering the body had been exposed to weather elements and animals for nearly half a year.

We all know that the Ramsey case was bungled from the beginning it seems, mainly from the inner-fighting between law enforcement agencies.  There are those who believe that if a DNA match can ever be established from some supposed samples found that it will be solved.  I am less confident of this. While there are those who disagree with me, I still firmly believe that someone in that home was responsible. Recently it was announced that JonBenet's brother, Burke, who came out of the woodwork this past year as the twenty year anniversary of the crime neared is suing CBS for a mini-series they aired in which they implicated him in the murder of his sister.  Burke, nor anyone else will ever be prosecuted because of the mistakes made from the start in this investigation and there are too many to count.

Which brings us to the case of Stephanie Crowe.  Like JonBenet, Stephanie was found murdered in her home.  The twelve year old girl was found around 6:30 in the morning on January 21,1998 by her grandmother in her Escondido California home.  The home was also occupied by Stephanie's parents and two siblings, including fourteen year old Michael. She had been stabbed nearly ten times.

The home was evacuated as a crime scene.  The parents were put into a hotel while Michael and his sibling was taken to a county shelter.  Parents and children were not allowed contact with each other for at least two days.  In the meantime investigators had confiscated their clothes and had searched the home for clues.  They also interviewed all members of the household, including the children, several times not only without the knowledge of the parents but also without benefit of attorneys.  Of course there are those who argue that innocent people do not need lawyers and this was something that had made the Ramsey family look bad in the beginning and turned public opinion on them. While I do agree that attorney's are not immediately needed to get the story out when a crime occurs, I also believe that once interviews become interrogations and take on an accusatory tone an attorney may be warranted.  I also believe that minors have the right to at the very least have their parents informed as to actions made by police officers.  What had made the Ramsey family look bad was the fact that they had attorney's hired before they ever spoke to police at all, and even then would still not cooperate in a normal investigations.  Their first interview with police did not happen until over four months after the murder of their daughter.  

It does not appear that at any point in time were the parents, or the grandmother who had found Stephanie was ever a viable suspect.  The parents had stated they had gone to bed around 9:30 on the previous evening and while they stated they heard some "bumping" sounds it apparently had not been loud enough or concerning enough to them.  A medical examiner would later estimate the time of death being somewhere between 10pm and 10:30pm on the night of the 20th.  

While investigators were looking over the crime scene and interviewing the household members they also heard from neighbors about a strange man who had been in the neighborhood.  He was found the day after the murder and questioned.  His name was Richard Tuite.  Neighbors had claimed that he was roaming the area and knocking on doors looking for someone named "Tracey." Investigators considered Tuite a transient and confiscated his clothing also. 

Over the next several days Michael Crowe was interviewed often, again without his parents' knowledge or the benefit of an attorney for long periods of time. Investigators would claim that Michael seemed preoccupied and distant after the death of his sister and it was their opinion that he showed little to no emotion. Investigators were already convinced this was an "inside job."  There had been no signs of forced entry into the home, but then again at least one window and one door had been known to be unlocked.  There appeared to be no evidence of any sorts of unknown prints or even DNA other than those belonging to family members.  No murder weapon had been found.  None of the knives within the home matched the injuries made.

After a six hour interrogation in which Michael was told, falsely, that evidence collected had implicated him, that he failed a "truth verification test" and that his parents believed him to be guilty, Michael gave what was considered to be a very "vague" confession.   Let me start by explaining what a "truth verification test" is and the difference between that and a polygraph.  As most of us know in a polygraph probes are connected to the body in which monitors one's heartbeat and pulse to determine the truthfulness of answers given by the person being tested.  In a truth verification test there is simply a microphone attached to the person with a recording devise.  This test simply determines truth, or lies, by the tone of the voice of the person taking the test. Just like polygraphs, these are used in investigations but not allowed in courtrooms based on their unreliability.  I believe the reason we so rarely hear of this test is that it seems the accuracy of these tests are even more at debate than a polygraph.

In his supposed confession Michael did not give any details to the crime, and in fact said he "couldn't remember doing" it at all.  He was then video taped in efforts to get his confession on tape.  Several times throughout the video Michael can be heard saying "I am only saying this because it's what you want to hear.  He was promptly arrested and charged in the murder of his sister.

But, investigators were not done.  They began looking at friends of Michael's and found their way to two more fifteen year old boys, Joshua Treadway and Aaron Houser.  Houser had  collection of knives and his parents had, probably innocently, reported that one of them were missing.  The missing knife showed up in the Treadway home and it seems that Joshua readily admitted it was the knife from the Houser home.  Police then interrogated Joshua for a period of eleven hours, during the night time hours,  telling Joshua they believed the knife found in his home was the weapon in which murdered Stephanie Crowe. Treadway did not "crack."  Two weeks later they again interviewed Treadway in another ten hour interrogation session.  It was then that he gave what police believed to be a detailed confession and implicated both Michael and Aaron Houser.  Treadway was now also arrested and charged with murder.

A few days later police arrested Aaron Houser who would never confess to the crime but seemingly played along with a game of "hypothetical" with the officers.  

Investigators believed they had "their men" so to speak and prosecutors and investigators prepared for trial.  It was not looking good for the state though. Through hearing a judge determined that a technique, called, The Reid Technique was used on the boys and determined that the confessions were not valid.  Well, while the technique was used as one of the reasons behind the inadmissibility of confession (save one of two by Treadway) there were other reasons too.  As far as Michael went the judge felt that coercion had been used to elicit his confession when the officers (one was from Escondido and one from nearby Oceanside) implied that they would personally talk to the district attorney for Michael and recommend leniency.  Treadway had actually confessed twice, once to an Oceanside officer and again to an Escondido officer.  They were considered to be the exact same, and redundant and the judge ruled the first confession suppressed.  I can only assume this was because of jurisdictional issues.  As far as Aaron Houser was concerned the judge found that he had never properly been advised of his Miranda Rights.

So, the three boys languished in jail for about six months awaiting trial.  It had been determined that they would be tried as adults.  Then, just before Treadway was to go on trial in January of 1999 prosecutors came out and determined that DNA had been found on clothing belonging to Richard Tuite in the form of three blood droplets that matched Stephanie Crowe.

Suddenly all charges were dropped against the three boys and they were set free.  But, Tuite was not charged until nearly three months later. Some say this was because Escondido investigators were not happy with the district attorney's office for dropping the charges against the boys because it made their department look bad.  In fact, it was not even the Escondido police department that had charged Tuite.  By all accounts the local prosecutor had to contact the Attorney General of California Department of Justice to ensure the arrest.

Richard Tuite went to trial in February of 2004 but it did not start out well for him, or the police officers that were in charge of watching him.  Apparently as jury selection was underway in the courthouse Tuite had been unmanned and managed to escape.  He even got as far as getting on a bus.  He was caught several hours later.

The prosecutors would argue that the drops of blood on Tuite's clothing meant he was guilty.  This was all they really had other than neighbors stating he had been in the area, something it seems he did not argue with.  Neighbors had claimed that he was knocking on doors and looking in windows hence they had called the police. This had actually occurred before anyone knew Stephanie Crowe lay dead in her bedroom. The defense would claim that Tuite was of low intelligence and that his "search" for the woman had continued the next few months. Investigators would claim that on the day he was interviewed, and his clothes taken, he had scrapes on his body, including a cut on his hand. 

For their part the defense did not argue that Tuite had been in the area but they argued that he was innocent of all the charges in this crime.  They pointed out that there had been absolutely no fingerprints or DNA found belonging to Tuite in the Crowe home.  They also argued that the blood droplets found on Tuite's clothing were not present when they had been confiscated and that they were a result of "sloppy" police work and contamination.  Surprisingly I did not come across the word "planted" in my research.  A subsequent appeal would stated that while the prosecution had claimed at trial to find DNA belonging to Stephanie Crowe on a red inner shirt and a white outer shirt of Tuite's that this was not the case in the beginning.  The defense would claim that upon initial examination nothing was found on the red shirt and while blood had been found on the white shirt that it was tested to be found to exclude Stephanie Crowe as a contributor.  They would go on to claim that pictures of the clothing were taking with the same camera and tri-pod that had been used at the scene of the crime and that the investigator proved that the legs of the tri-pod had not been covered as they should have been to prevent contamination.  

The prosecution apparently would admit that initial testing of the clothing revealed nothing but stated that in January of 1999 retesting of the red shirt had revealed a DNA stain relating to Stephanie and that in April of 2003 a second test was conducted on the white shirt, this time showing Stephanie's DNA. They would obviously argue that no contamination had existed.  

Prosecutors were hoping for a 1st degree murder verdict.  Instead on May 26, 2004 the jury found him guilty of voluntary manslaughter after thirty-seven hours of deliberation.  It was later said that the jury was in fact deadlocked on the charge of murder and had compromised in their verdict.  Tuite was sentenced to thirteen years for the manslaughter charge and later charged four years for his escape. 

So, it looks like investigators got their man and the case of Stephanie Crowe's murder is solved.  Not so fast, remember that this blog is all about a case that will never be solved in a court of law.  

As Tuite was spending time in prison for the murder of Stephanie Crowe and doing all that convicted defendant do through the appeals process, the families of the three boys initially charged sued the city, the police department and other entities.  By now the confessions of the boys were being used as how NOT to interrogate suspects, especially minors.  Literally it seems that the video confession of Michael Crowe was used around the nation as a tutorial on what not to do.  In 2011 the Crowes settled their case for  $7.25 million dollars.  I was unable to determine a settlement or a conclusion to Joshua Treadway's case but the Houser family received approximately $4 million from their case.  The following year, despite there being headway in Tuite's case a judge ruled, in something rarely done, that the boys were all "factually" innocent, permanently preventing charges from ever being brought against them in the future.

For Tuite's part in 2006 an appeals court affirmed his conviction and sentence. However, the appeals court did note that the judge in the case had prevented the continued cross examination of a prosecution witness.  But, the courts had found this error did not justify a change in the verdict or the trial.  Tuite's attorney's filed a second appeal in 2011 with several arguments, among them the continued argument about the cross examination issue. All other arguments were denied but the cross examination issue stood.

So, what was this issue involving the cross examination of a witness?  It seems that a forensic expert named Mary O'Toole had been brought into the Stephanie Crowe case early on, back when the three boys were still facing charges.  She had argued that the crime could not have been committed in the fashion in which it was without there being DNA left behind by the perpetrator.  Now, unless I missed something I am unclear if any DNA relating to Treadway or Houser was found at the crime scene.  Then again one could obviously argue they had been in the home and the presence of their DNA or the possibility of transfer was not out of the realm of possibilities.  But, I believe the point that O'Toole was expected to make for the prosecutors at the boys' trials was that this could not have been a random act of violence by an unknown perpetrator.  

Now of course by 2004 the prosecution was saying just the opposite of what O'Toole had planned to testify about so of course they did not use her. However, the defense had used her in their case against Richard Tuite.  As a rebuttal witness the prosecution called on another expert named Gregg McCrary.  He of course would argue that it was possible to have not left DNA in the home and would claim that the crime was "disorganized and random."  The defense had been made aware of a letter in which McCrary had written, although I cannot say to whom the letter was addressed, in which he criticized O'Toole's position, attacked her credibility and accused her of "undermining the prosecution" as well as accused her of being "unethical."  The presence of this letter was discussed outside the presence of the jury but the judge ruled that the defense could not ask McCrary about the letter or enter it into evidence once the trial resumed.

The 2011 appeal decision stated that this was a violation of Tuite's rights and they consequently reversed his conviction.  They also noted that while they did believe the jury had compromised in their verdict that, that alone warranted a new trial, the fact that there were things that had been found in error could have influenced that decision more fairly.  In October of 2013 Tuite was once again put on trial in the murder of Stephanie Crowe.  Once again the defense hammered the fact that there was no DNA or fingerprints found inside the Crowe home matching Tuite.  They pointed out that he had never been in the home before, would have not known the lay out and the possibility of not leaving evidence of his presence would have been impossible.  This time they had experts testify how that clothing could have been contaminated. On December 5, 2013 a jury found Richard Tuite not guilty in the murder of Stephanie Crowe.

So who did kill Stephanie Crowe?  That question will never be answered in a court of law.  There's absolutely no way.  None of the suspects in this case can never be tried again and if the prosecution would ever think to bring charges against someone else for the murder I am confident they would fail in obtaining a conviction because they have already, not just accused but charged, four other people, arguing two different scenarios.  

Do I believe any of the four accused are responsible?  I cannot say for sure. What I can say is that I have seen the video "confessions" and do believe they were not just coerced but were less detailed than a confession should be.  But, I have to be honest in saying that the lack of unknown DNA in the home is disturbing to me.  If these boys did in fact commit the crime no one but the police department is to blame for not closing the case.  

So what about Tuite?  Well, again, the lack of DNA evidence in the home tells me he is not responsible.  I noted above that I never saw the defense argue that evidence was "planted" but did argue that it was contaminated.  I did not say that as a flippant comment because we see so many cases in which that is alleged.  I said it because to be honest I do not know that if I had been the defense attorney for Tuite in this case that I would not have considered the planting of evidence.  The prosecution had been so sure that the three boys and their confessions would close this case.  Everything was going for them. They had the confessions; they had the lack of evidence of anyone else present; and they had them being charged as adults.  And then suddenly they no longer have the main confessions and the one left by Treadway would be hard to prove considering the others had been inadmissible and there were still questions with his.  I saw no reference about the "murder weapon" other than they "believed" the knife found in the Treadway home that was linked to Aaron Houser had in fact been the knife used.  I saw absolutely nothing that stated this was proven to be true.  Surely there would have been blood or DNA on the knife.  

Then just as suddenly, as the prosecution was preparing to get ready to start the first of the boys' trials suddenly there was DNA found on a stain on a red shirt belonging to Tuite.  Charges were dropped against the boys but in a manner in which if this did not work out for them with Tuite they could re-charge them.  I simply feel it was all coincidental.  

By the time Tuite went to trail, all the things they had prepared to prove in the trials of the boys were no longer true.  It was like it was opposite day in court. Suddenly the expert that had been prepared to testify that the likelihood of a random stranger entering a home and committing this murder without leaving any prints or DNA was unlikely was testifying for the defense in this case. If nothing else for me this case proved that when you have a theory you can find experts to agree with you.  

Sadly the Crowe family lost their daughter and will never have true closure. They obviously believe in the innocence of their son.  As far as their belief in the guilt or innocence of Tuite, I cannot say, but I would hope that they look at his case with the same open eyes they look at their sons case.


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