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Chico State's independent student newspaper

The Orion

Chico State's independent student newspaper

The Orion

Chico State's independent student newspaper

The Orion

Death row inmate may get retrial

Steven Crittenden, now 46, was a 19-year-old Chico State student when police arrested him at gunpoint outside his Chico apartment on suspicion of killing a prominent Chico physician and his wife.

Police said the two were found in separate rooms, and were bound and gagged with knives protruding from their chests, according to a 1987 Orion article.

Crittenden was convicted two years later  for the brutal slayings of Dr. William Chiapella and his wife, Katherine. He was sentenced to death, and spent much of his time in San Quentin State Prison.

Now, 24 years after his conviction, the former Chico State football player may be granted a retrial if a decision made by a federal court judge stands.

The decision, made by U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller last week, tosses out Crittenden’s conviction on the grounds that the prosecution’s dismissal of the lone African American on the jury was racially motivated.

Before Mueller’s ruling, the appeal gradually made its way through the judicial system and was denied by the California Supreme Court.

Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey, who was elected shortly after the slayings took place, disputes Mueller’s ruling. It flies in the face of decisions made by numerous other judges, he said.

“The evidence against Mr. Crittenden and his butchering of Mr. and Mrs. Chiapella was overwhelming,” Ramsey said. “Here we are 24 years later and a single federal judge in Sacramento made a decision that 10 other previous judges disagreed with.”

Ramsey contends that the prosecutor for the case, Gerald Flanagan, made his decision because the juror was unsure whether she supported the death penalty, not because she was African-American.

One of Crittenden’s attorneys, Mark Goldrosen, praised Mueller’s decision. The prosecutor’s records show that the African-American juror was given undue scrutiny because of her race, Goldrosen said.

Crittenden, who is also African-American, was excited and encouraged when he heard that he might get a retrial, Goldrosen said.

“He was thrilled and he felt new confidence in the workings of the court system to reach a fair result,” he said.

Mueller’s ruling requires the court to start a retrial within 60 days, but the Attorney General will appeal that decision, Ramsey said. The prosecution is willing to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary.


Benjamin Mullin can be reached at [email protected] or @benmullin on Twitter.

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