State seeks to block release of Solano death-row inmate

By From page A3 | February 15, 2014

FAIRFIELD — A former Vanden High School sports great who has been on death row at San Quentin prison for 25 years is still locked up four months after a federal judge in Sacramento ordered him to be released or receive a new murder trial.

The California Attorney General’s Office is appealing the ruling to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal. The Attorney General’s Office on Thursday filed a brief of more than 1,000 pages detailing why the state believes the order should be overturned.

Steven E. Crittenden was sentenced to death in 1989, three years after he helped propel the Vanden Vikings boys’ basketball team to a state championship.

Crittenden, now 46, was a freshman on a football scholarship at California State University, Chico, in Butte County when he tortured and slaughtered an elderly couple in their home in early 1987.

Joseph and Katherine Chiapella had both been bound, gagged, beaten and stabbed to death in their Chico home. The day after their killings, Crittenden, who had done yard work for the couple, cashed a $3,000 check signed by Katherine Chiapella.

U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller ruled in September 2013 that Crittenden deserved his freedom or a new trial because the prosecutor at his jury trial had likely been motivated by racism when he dismissed the only African-American prospective juror on the panel during a months-long jury selection process. Crittenden is also African-American.

Crittenden’s release has been blocked by a court-ordered stay of Mueller’s order. The stay is currently set to lapse Feb. 27, two weeks before Crittenden’s lawyers are expected to respond to the brief from the Attorney General’s Office.

During Crittenden’s jury trial, Vanden basketball coaches and a former teammate testified about how sportsmanlike, polite and respectful he had been when he played for the Vikings.

The California Supreme Court upheld Crittenden’s conviction and the death penalty in 1994. Crittenden’s lawyers got a federal judge to order a hearing in 2000 to review issues about the trial. It wasn’t until 2005 that the federal district court turned down all of Crittenden’s legal claims. His lawyers appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which heard arguments six years ago in 2007 in Crittenden’s appeal that resulted in Mueller conducting the hearing that preceded her ruling.

“. . . (A)t the time of (the prosecutor’s) rating of jurors after voir dire and the time of his actually striking (the juror), (the prosecutor) was motivated, consciously or unconsciously, in substantial part by race,” Mueller wrote.
The Attorney General’s Office argues that Mueller has no legal authority to free Crittenden based upon the existence of unconscious bias in a prosecutor and that the prosecutor’s intent has been lost in the detailed parsing of every possible aspect of the voluminous record. Mueller focused too heavily on details instead of looking at the totality of the circumstances in dismissing the juror, the attorney general argues.
The prosecutor claimed he removed the juror from the jury panel because of her negative views on the death penalty.

Reach Jess Sullivan at 427-6919 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jsullivandr.

Jess Sullivan

Jess has covered the criminal justice system in Solano County for several years. He was an embedded reporter in Iraq in 2003.

Discussion | 6 comments

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  • MattFebruary 15, 2014 - 6:28 am

    People are so stupid. "Let's get this guy a new trial, I'm sure his innocent we just need to bring race into it to prove it."

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • The MisterFebruary 15, 2014 - 7:35 am

    "My baby wouldn't do that! Everybody know police don't like Black people."

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • ArtimusFebruary 15, 2014 - 11:48 pm

    You are a narrow minded fool; I am surprised that you comment does not get sensors.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • JazzAzzFebruary 15, 2014 - 7:56 am

    UnFreakinBelievable >>> Sentenced to death in 1989, 25 yrs. ago????!!!!. Now this problem would have already been solved if his sentence had been carried out in a timely fashion. Where is someone with a SHIV in that prison, when society needs him??? This is a perfect example why people need to take justice into our own hands, not being able to trust the justice system, IF HE GOES FREE or is even given another trial!!!!! Why we need, in some cases vigilante justice!!!!!!!

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • S KFebruary 15, 2014 - 8:03 am

    For sure Jazz. If you are down on your luck (Not advocating harming anyone), just commit some heinous capital offense crime, since a death sentence in Calif. will get you free room and board, medical AND dental, for the rest of your life (Not to mention stylish free clothing too), since no one ever gets put to death in Calif's death row anymore. What a deal. Now don't you dare slip up and commit such a crime in either Texas or Florida, because in those states they know how to carry out justice, hold a prep responsible.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • S KFebruary 15, 2014 - 8:05 am

    TYPO ALERT>>>Meant PERP. Where are my proof readers :-). Too bad we can't go in an EDIT our posts.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
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