FAQ: THE STEPHANIE CROWE CASE
What was this case about?
Twelve-year old Stephanie Crowe was murdered in her home at Escondido, California 20 years ago in January of 1998. Her older brother Michael Crowe and two of his friends were initially charged with her murder. Charges were later dropped when new evidence was uncovered and the boys were found factually innocent years later. A transient (Richard Tuite) who was seen in the neighborhood on the night of her murder was eventually charged instead.
What was District Attorney Summer Stephan’s involvement in the case?
Then-Deputy District Attorney Summer Stephan was assigned to the case several months after charges were filed against the three boys and major decisions had already been made. When Summer received the case, she reviewed the evidence carefully and joined the defense in asking the court to have a blood stain on a t-shirt worn by a local transient tested. Surprisingly, the test results showed DNA from Stephanie Crowe on the shirt. As a result, Deputy DA Stephan determined there was reasonable doubt, brought the new evidence to her supervisors and asked the court to dismiss the charges against the boys.
Was the transient charged with Stephanie Crowe’s murder?
Yes, however DA Summer Stephan was not involved in the trial of Richard Tuite, which was prosecuted by the Attorney General’s Office. Tuite was convicted of manslaughter, but was granted a retrial and found not guilty.
Was there any finding of prosecutorial misconduct?
No. DA Summer Stephan has never been accused of prosecutorial misconduct in this case. In fact, in the hundreds of cases that DA Stephan has handled over the last 28 years, she has never been found to have committed prosecutorial misconduct, let alone any kind of negligence, error or mistake in the handling of any case. When asked about the Crowe case specifically, former District Attorney Pfingst said, “Summer handled the case appropriately.”
Why is there controversy about this case?
The controversy centers squarely on the police investigation and interrogation, which used inappropriate police tactics in obtaining confessions and other investigative aspects of the case.
Was there a civil lawsuit as a result of this case?
Yes. The Crowe family filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against police detectives, the cities of Escondido and Oceanside, San Diego County and others. The families settled the suit for $7.25 million. The judge ruled that every person named in the lawsuit was liable for their respective roles, excluding Deputy DA Summer Stephan whom the court found had done nothing wrong.
What has DA Summer Stephan said about her involvement in the Crowe case?
DA Summer Stephan has said the following about her involvement in this challenging case 20 years ago:
My heart goes out to the Crowe family for the loss of their daughter. I can’t imagine the depth of their grief that understandably endures 20 years after this terrible crime, and the additional pain of not having closure through the justice system. I’ve been able to help hundreds of families get justice over the last 28 years and I wish I could have done that for this family.
-District Attorney Summer Stephan