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.
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