Change of venue hearing in retrial for double murder suspect

Mar 31, 2016 8:47 PM by Cecile Juliette

Lawyers connected to the double homicide case against a former Chico State student met in Judge Tamara Mosbarger's court for a change of venue hearing Wednesday. Steven Crittenden, 49, has been sitting on death row in San Quentin for nearly three decades. Crittenden, once a well-liked student-athlete, was convicted of murdering Dr. William Chiapella and his wife Katherine in 1989. The prominent Chico couple were found in their home in 1987, bound and tortured. Prosecutors said Crittenden had cashed a $3,000 check written by Katherine, allegedly under duress. Crittenden maintained she had paid him for sex.

The case was tried in Placer County after Crittenden's defense successfully argued that he couldn't get a fair trial in Butte County. He was found guilty, and sentenced to death. His lawyers appealed.

Fast-forward to 2013. A federal judge in Sacramento overturned Crittenden's guilty conviction, citing racial bias, after prosecutors dismissed the only potential black juror in the case.

Since that time, the Butte County District Attorney's Office has been gathering evidence that's been stored in the Placer County courthouse, and finding new evidence. In 1989, DNA technology was not widely-used in forensic court cases. Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey said prosecutors have uncovered new evidence, but he declined to give details on the nature of that evidence. He also said some witnesses have passed away. Said Ramsey, "Those witnesses that aren't alive, their testimony is preserved from the transcript from the 1988 trial."

Lawyers for Crittenden, who was not in court Wednesday, said they plan to hire Chico State Professor Ed Bronson to conduct a survey of potential Butte County Jurors , to determine how many people are familiar with the case. Defense attorneys hope to have the retrial moved out of Butte County. Ramsey said it would be easier for victims to have the case retried in Butte County. He also said most people are likely not familiar with the case. Said Ramsey, "Quite frankly, anyone under the age of 40 was either not born, or in elementary school at the time that that trial occurred."

Crittenden's change of venue hearing was continued until July 27.


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