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Trial in Yosemite Killings to Begin

From Associated Press

It is one of the most infamous crimes in California history: A woman, her daughter and a friend disappeared while visiting Yosemite National Park and were savagely killed by the handyman at their motel. Caught months later after beheading a nature guide, Cary Stayner gave the FBI a detailed confession to all four slayings.

Three years later, Stayner, 40, is finally going on trial for killing the tourists, with opening statements expected Monday. The trial was moved to San Jose because of intense publicity in Mariposa County, where the killings occurred.

Despite the notoriety, there is an anticlimactic aspect to Stayner’s trial. He already is serving life without parole in federal prison after pleading guilty to killing the park guide, Joie Armstrong.

But state prosecutors want to execute him.

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Stayner, who once said he would prefer the death penalty to life in prison, has pleaded innocent by reason of insanity. Executing him will require slogging through a trial expected to last almost three months and cost taxpayers $3 million. Then there are the appeals.

“You have to imagine there are better ways of spending the money, even though I support the death penalty,” said Ken Hawkins, the auditor for Mariposa County.

The county, with a population of just 16,000 and an annual budget of $31 million, has spent $940,000 on the case and expects to shell out at least $2 million more for the prosecution’s costs and Stayner’s defense.

Most of the costs will be reimbursed by the state.

Stayner is charged with murder, kidnapping and special circumstances that could bring the death penalty--including sexual assault and attempted rape--in the killings of Carole Sund, 42, her daughter Juliana, 15, and Silvina Pelosso, a 16-year-old friend from Argentina.

The three disappeared while visiting the park in February 1999. Their burned-out rental car was found a month later with Carole Sund’s and Silvina’s bodies in the trunk. They had been strangled.

A week later, Juliana’s body was discovered in a thicket near a remote lake, after Stayner had mailed the FBI a letter with a map directing agents to the scene. Her throat had been slashed.

After his arrest, Stayner told the FBI that killing the tourists made him feel “like I was in control for the first time in my life.” He said he sexually assaulted Juliana after killing the others, and that she had begged him to end her misery.

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