The older sister of Richard Tuite, a mentally-ill transient who spent eight years behind bars for the 1998 slaying of an Escondido girl, was overjoyed Friday when her brother was acquitted by a San Diego jury.
“I asked God to give me the strength to go through this again, and he did. And justice prevailed, finally,” Licon told NBC 7 San Diego.
Licon – Tuite’s supporter since day one – said her brother has always claimed his innocence in the death of 12-year-old Stephanie Crowe, and she has never doubted his story.
“That was never a doubt in my mind. We never doubted his innocence. We just had to have faith in our system to her their head out of their a-- and do the right thing,” Licon added.
In 2004, Tuite was convicted in the death of Stephanie Crowe, six years after the young girl was brutally stabbed nine times in her bed in her family’s Escondido home. She collapsed and died in her bedroom doorway.
In 2012, a federal appeals court voided Tuite’s conviction and ordered a new trial. The retrial began in San Diego this past October, with prosecutors trying Tuite on one count of voluntary manslaughter.
On Friday, jurors returned a verdict for Tuite of not guilty of voluntary manslaughter, not true of using deadly weapon.
After the verdict was read, Tuite smiled at his attorney and then turned around, glancing at Linon in the back of the courtroom, flashing a small smile at his sister. Overcome with emotion, Licon smiled back.
For Licon, the not guilty verdict finally brings closure to the case and her family.
“Justice has finally prevailed – not only for Stephanie, but for Richard. Today is justice for Stephanie. Today is justice for Richard,” she said outside of the courtroom.
““I am ecstatic today. This has restored my faith in our system and in God more than you guys will ever know. I’m on a cloud. I’m on a cloud,” Licon added.
Licon said watching her brother go through this ordeal has been especially difficult for her because she herself is the mother of a murdered child. Her only daughter was killed many years ago, and Licon said that killer was never caught.
“As the mother of a murdered daughter myself – whose murderer still walks the streets – I have a very difficult time with what has happened over the past 15 years,” she said.
Licon added that the whole experience – trials, convictions and retrials – has been surreal and “life-altering.”
“I still feel like I’m having an out-of-body experience,” she said.
Still, over the years, Licon said she’s never left her brother’s side.
Throughout Tuite’s incarceration, Licon said she has visited her brother on a regular basis, written him letters and made sure he had everything he needed behind bars.
“He’s my baby brother,” said Licon. “I am his sister and it is my job to take care of him.”
As for Tuite, Licon said he’s been holding up “as well as could be expected” over the years, given the situation. Now, she said she’s ready to give her brother a big hug upon his release.
Officials told NBC 7 Tuite will remain in jail over the weekend and will likely be released Monday.
Other than stating that justice has been served for Stephanie Crowe, Licon said she had nothing further to say to the Crowe family at this time.
During this retrial, jurors heard from many of Stephanie Crowe’s family members including her mother, Cheryl Crowe, her sister Shannon Dehesa, and her brother, Michael Crowe.
Michael Crowe was initially arrested in and charged in his sister’s murder. A judge later threw out those charges levied against Michael and his friends, Aaron Houser and Joshua Treadway, ruling they were based on coerced confessions of teenagers.
Ultimately, Michael was ruled factually innocent in the case.
Still, retrial jurors heard the confession taped in 1998 of Treadway confessing to the murder, along with the defense team’s theory that Michael Crowe, Treadway and Houser were responsible for Stephanie’s death.
Prior to testifying during the retrial Crowe spoke exclusively to NBC 7 and called the defense’s theory “an argument that comes out of the inability to accept reality.”