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State's longest-serving death row inmate sees sentence overturned

October 30, 2012 |  7:54 am

Douglas R. Stankewitz was convicted of murdering a woman more than three decades ago and had been California's longest-serving death row inmate until a federal appeals court this week overturned his death sentence.

A U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals panel on Monday said his defense lawyer failed to investigate or offer mitigating evidence during the penalty phase of the murder trial. The panel ruled 2-1 that Stankewitz should be resentenced to life without possibility of parole unless prosecutors retry the penalty phase of his murder case. It was was centered on the 1978 killing of Theresa Greybeal in Fresno.

The 9th Circuit majority said Stankewitz's defense lawyer did a poor job trying to persuade jurors against a death sentence, offering only a "paltry" amount of evidence and ignoring significant documentation of Stankewitz's "deprived and abusive upbringing," potential mental illness and history of substance abuse before the murder.

The court said Stankewitz was severely emotionally damaged by the time he was 6, partly because his was born into a filthy, poverty-stricken home without running water or electricity and with an intellectually impaired alcoholic mother and an abusive, alcoholic father.

Judge Raymond C. Fisher wrote that Stankewitz's defense attorney "did not obtain a psychological examination of Stankewitz, despite his belief that Stankewitz was not mentally competent, and did not pursue any of the evidence of Stankewitz's history of drug and alcohol abuse."

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-- Maura Dolan and Ari Bloomekatz
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