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Transient acquitted in 1998 slaying of Escondido girl, 12

SAN DIEGO -- A jury Friday acquitted a mentally ill transient and petty thief in the 1998 slaying of a 12-year-old girl in her bed in Escondido.

In 2004 a jury had convicted Richard Tuite, now 44, of voluntary manslaughter in the case. But an appeals court last year overturned the verdict and ordered a retrial on that charge.

Tuite smiled but showed little emotion when the verdict was announced.

The San Diego County Superior Court jury had begun deliberations Wednesday afternoon in the retrial. Tuite remained in jail during the trial. He did not testify.

Stephanie Ann Crowe was found stabbed to death in her bed in the family home in Escondido in January 1998.

Initially the district attorney charged her brother Michael, then 14, and two of his friends in the killing.  Prosecutors said the brother had confessed under questioning.

But then forensic testing ordered by the defense showed small drops of Stephanie's blood on Tuite's sweatshirt.

Tuite was seen in the neighborhood on the night of the murder. He was known to be asking in ominous tones about a girl named Tracy.

Tuite was arrested in May 2002 just as he was to be released from prison on an unrelated burglary conviction.

In 2004, Tuite was found not guilty of murder but guilty of voluntary manslaughter. He was sentenced to 13 years in prison for that charge and four more years for escaping during a break in his trial.

The case, which has been the subject of two books and a TV movie, centered on issues of coerced confessions and whether police coerced Michael Crowe and the two others into making false confessions and incriminating comments.

In 2011, the Crowe family reached a $7.25-million settlement with Escondido police and other agencies. The family has asserted that his rights were violated during hours of intense questioning.

Last year a federal appeals court ordered a new trial for Tuite on grounds that his attorney was denied the right to cross-examine a key prosecution expert.

During the retrial, Tuite's attorney, Bradley Patton, reminded jurors that if they found reasonable doubt, they had to vote for acquittal.

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Twitter: @LATsandiego

tony.perry@latimes.com

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