Inmate convicted of infamous Fresno murder could ‘have a viable shot’ at freedom, lawyer says

·3 min read
Fresno Bee file

Douglas Stankewitz, who at one time was the longest-tenured inmate on San Quentin’s death row, may get a shot at freedom after the Fifth District Court of Appeal ruled he[s entitled to a resentencing hearing in Fresno County Superior Court.

The appeal court’s June 28 opinion overturns a 2019 decision by Judge Arlan Harrell that sentenced the 63-year-old Stankewitz to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Although he was sentenced to death in 1978 for the murder of 22-year-old Theresa Greybeal, Stankewitz has maintained he is innocent. His team of lawyers have alleged Stankewitz was wrongly convicted and have been litigating his case for years.

In 2012, a federal appeals court threw out Stankewitz’s death penalty sentence, saying the jury should have heard evidence of his troubled childhood.

As a result, the Fresno County District’s Attorney’s Office would have to re-argue his sentencing. But the DA’s office made the decision not to pursue the death penalty and instead seek life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Judge Harrell said at the time that the court had but one option and that was life without the possibility of parole.

The court of appeal said in its recent opinion that wasn’t the case.

“The Attorney General concedes the trial court erred by misunderstanding the scope of its discretion at the re-sentencing hearing, and that another sentencing hearing is therefore required,” according to the court opinion.

Defense to argue police misconduct

Curtis L. Briggs, one of the lawyers on Stankewtiz’s legal team, said Thursday that a full re-sentencing hearing allows him to argue certain mitigating factors, including the alleged planting of evidence and police misconduct.

Briggs is hoping to convince the judge to strike the sentencing enhancement for using gun and killing someone during a robbery.

If they are successful, Stankewitz could receive life with the possibility of parole.

“This is the first time since 1978 that he has a viable shot of getting out soon,” Briggs said.

Prosecutors maintain Stankewitz, then 19, plotted with three others to rob and kidnap Greybeal in Modesto. Greybeal was driven to Fresno, where Stankewitz shot and killed her. After the murder, Stankewitz told the others in the group: “Did I drop her or did I drop her?”

Stankewitz has always maintained his innocence and his team of lawyers includes Jones, famed civil rights attorney Tony Serra and his associate, San Francisco attorney Curtis Briggs.

Over the years, Stankewitz’s case has been litigated from Superior Court to the state Supreme Court. The case was tried twice, and both resulted in a guilty verdict. After the first trial, the California Supreme Court reversed the conviction because Stankewitz’s competency to stand trial was not addressed. He was found competent prior to the second trial, and he was convicted again.

The second conviction also was appealed, but in 1990 the California Supreme Court affirmed Stankewitz’s conviction and death sentence.

Stankewitz filed a motion in federal court, saying his attorney did not investigate and present evidence during the penalty phase of his trial. In 2009, a federal judge affirmed Stankewitz’s guilt but reversed his death sentence. Three years later, an appeals court agreed with that decision.

No date has been set for Stankewitz’s new re-sentencing hearing.

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