A man who was previously convicted, then acquitted of a 12-year-old Escondido girl's 1998 killing, pleaded guilty Thursday to a misdemeanor count of methamphetamine possession and was immediately sentenced to time served in custody.
Richard Tuite, 51, was arrested and charged in January of last year with a single felony count of being a convicted felon on prison grounds or adjacent lands. Details on why Tuite was allegedly at the downtown San Diego lockup were not clear, but he was charged with being at the jail while having prior convictions that include burglary, bribery and escape from a jail.
On Thursday, he pleaded guilty to the amended drug possession charge and was sentenced to credit for time served for about 150 days he spent in jail last year, according to the San Diego County District Attorney's Office.
Tuite was previously convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to 13 years in state prison in the well-publicized case regarding the stabbing death of seventh-grader Stephanie Crowe, but his conviction was later overturned and he was acquitted in a 2013 retrial. He served eight years in prison after his initial conviction.
Crowe's body was found sprawled in the doorway of her bedroom by her grandmother early on the morning of Jan. 21, 1998. She had been stabbed nine times.
Her older brother, Michael, and two of his friends, Aaron Houser and Joshua Treadway, initially were accused of committing the murder, and police extracted confessions from two of them during lengthy interrogations.
The admissions were later ruled to have been coerced, and the charges against the boys were dismissed. During Tuite's retrial, the now-adult former suspects testified that they had no involvement in Stephanie's death.
Tuite had been in the area of the Crowe residence the night the girl was killed. He was agitated and looking for a woman named Tracy, according to prosecutors, who contended that the disheveled and seemingly confused transient wandered into the Crowe home and attacked the girl.
Investigators, however, found no physical evidence directly linking him to the crime scene.
Analysts later found the victim's blood on two shirts that Tuite had been wearing on the day of the girl's death. Jurors who voted to acquit Tuite said they believed a defense theory of "contamination," in which blood from the crime scene somehow wound up transferred onto Tuite's clothing.
After a full day of deliberations during the retrial in 2013, jurors returned the not guilty verdict, clearing Tuite of voluntary manslaughter charges.
Tuite smiled at his attorney and then turned to the back of the courtroom and smiled at his sister seated behind him.
Kerri Licon, Richard Tuite’s older sister, was his sole supporter who never gave up on her brother.
She has long admitted her brother was a transient who suffered from schizophrenia but she maintained he was not in the Crowe home on the night of Stephanie’s death.
During Tuite's retrial for the killing, he managed to escape from the downtown courthouse, leading to an intense countywide manhunt. He was taken back into custody later that day in Clairemont.
After the verdict, defense attorney C. Bradley Patto pointed to two factors he believed led to the not guilty verdict: the lack of evidence placing an angry, violent Tuite near the Crowe home on the night of the killing and the inability of his client to get inside a locked house.
“There was absolutely no evidence he could have gone into that residence. At all. The door was deadlocked. Steven Crowe made that clear and there was no other source for accessing that residence,” Patton said. “It’s implausible to suggest that it could’ve been Richard Tuite.”
Stephanie's mother, Cheryl Crowe, however, argued that Tuite was able to escape police custody at an early court hearing and travel from downtown to Clairemont without capture.
“He slipped out of the San Diego County Courthouse. If you can slip out of there you can slip into somebody else’s house,” Cheryl Crowe said.