A case involving the death of Stephanie Crowe in 1998 has been revived by a federal court.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court's decision to gut the case because the coerced confessions at the heart of the lawsuit involving Crowe's brother were never used at trial.
The appeals court ruled that the confessions -- extracted from two of the then-teenage suspects during grueling interviews over several days -- were used to charge the suspects and in other pretrial hearings.
The case began on the morning of Jan. 21, 1998, when the Crowes' grandmother found the dead girl in her Escondido bedroom.
Investigators quickly focused on 14-year-old Michael Crowe, noting that their suspicion was aroused when they noticed him emotionlessly playing a handheld video game while the rest of the family grieved the morning his sister's body was discovered. Soon after, investigators implicated Michael's friends, Aaron Houser and Joshua Treadway.
The three boys were repeatedly interrogated over many hours until Crowe and Treadway confessed. A judge later found those confessions were made by scared teens worn down by what the appeals court described as "hours of grueling, psychologically abusive interrogation."
Treadway dropped out of the case after the trio lost in the trial court. But Crowe, Houser and their families continued to pursue the lawsuit, which is primarily aimed at the Escondido police officers who handled the murder investigation.
Escondido police turned over the investigation over to the sheriff's department. In 2004, a mentally ill man, Richard Tuite, was convicted of killing Stephanie.
Thursday's court develpments were welcome news for Stephanie Crowe's mother, Cheryl Crowe, reported the North County Times, who said she was "cautiously optimistic."
"I see it as a positive thing," Cheryl Crowe told the paper. "But I've learned to not get excited over such things. I have learned to be guarded."
Escondido City Attorney Jeffrey Epp told the paper that the 65-page decision meant that a trial was likely.
The Crowes' attorney, Milton Silverman, predicted the case will go to trial this year, unless the ruling is appealed.
"I gave them a chance 10 years ago to settle and they jerked me around," Silverman said. "This case is going to trial."