This week a Federal District Judge in Sacramento overturned Steven Crittenden’s double murder conviction of a Chico doctor and his wife.
Judge Kimberly Mueller faulted the prosecutor, Jerry Flanagan’s dismissal of the only African American in the jury pool.
Flanagan used a peremptory challenge to remove the juror because she was unequivocally opposed to the death penalty. The District Attorney at the time, Will Mattly, was seeking the death penalty in this case.
On the chilly morning of Jan. 13, 1987, 67-year old Dr. William Chiapella and his 66-year old wife, Katherine, were found bound and gagged in their Downing Avenue home by their son. The couple had been stabbed multiple times and tortured before their death.
Chico Police determined the motive to be money. Crittenden, a Chico State Sudent at the time, had responded to a posting on a job board at the University for yard work at the Chiapella home three months prior to their death. Evidence introduced at the trial was damaging. There were the specifically patterned sheets, a strawberry pattern, used to bound and gag the Chiapellas. The same patterned, matching sheets were found in Crittenden’s Chico apartment. There was also a $3,000. check cashed by Crittenden and signed, under duress according to investigators, by Mrs. Chiapella. Crittenden claimed the money was from Mrs. Chiapella for sex. A shoe print was also found at the home matching Crittenden’s shoes.
While in the Butte County Jail, Crittenden escaped at least twice, kidnapping a man during one escape and taking him to Sacramento.
District Attorney Mike Ramsey, who was District Attorney by the time the case was tried in 1989, said today, every judge, including the California Supreme Court has found no errors in the jury selection. Ramsey said the recent ruling was an insult to Flannigan.
Crittenden’s murder trial was held in Placer County, because of the brutality of the murders, extensive publicity in the case and the notoriety of the Chiapellas.
Crittenden, an African American, is now 46, and has spent 24 years on San Quentin’s death row.
Ramsey says they will appeal the Federal Judge’s ruling. If the appeal by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal is unsuccessful, Ramsey says they will retry Crittenden. He says it will be difficult to resurrect the evidence after more than 25 years. Ramsey added, he was shocked by the this week’s ruling.
"The ruling shows why people are disgusted with the game playing made with the death penalty," Ramsey said. "It’s P.C. gone wild."