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.
And the story was supposed to end with the death penalty. Except of course it didn’t. It takes so long to execute a murderer that they can die of old age by that time.
Steven Crittenden has been on death row for 24 years as the case has bounced back and forth through the system like a deranged pinball machine. Until it wound up in the hands of an Obama judge.
And you can guess the rest. But you don’t have to.
Why did Judge Mueller overturn his conviction? Well, Crittenden is black. In the 50-person jury pool, there was only one black juror. The trial prosecutor, Gerald E. Flanagan, used one of his 26 peremptory strikes to dismiss that person because she had negative feelings about the death penalty.
No, no, wrote Judge Mueller, that was not the true reason that Flanagan dismissed the lady. She wrote:
At the time of Flanagan’s rating of jurors after voir dire and the time of his actually striking [the juror], Flanagan was motivated, consciously or unconsciously, in substantial part by race.
This may be the first time in history that a prosecutor’s subconscious was used to reverse a verdict. We are now in legal Freudian territory.
Judge Kimberly J. Mueller was appointed by Obama in 2010. She came out of the Sacramento City Council.