Death-row veteran Stankewitz fails in bid to fire Fresno attorney

The Fresno BeeJune 6, 2014 

Death-row inmate Douglas Ray Stankewitz was returned to San Quentin State Prison Friday after making a brief appearance in Fresno County Superior Court, where he failed in a bid to fire his attorney, Richard Beshwate.

Stankewitz is awaiting a third retrial of his death sentence in the slaying of 22-year-old Theresa Graybeal in Fresno in February 1978. He didn't persuade Judge Arlan L. Harrell to appoint a new attorney during a closed-door Marsden hearing.

"I don't trust him," Stankewitz said of Beshwate, after the closed-door session ended and the public was allowed back into the courtroom. But Harrell was unmoved.

Stankewitz also appealed to the judge to allow Alexandra Cook of Corte Madera join his defense team.

"She wants to keep an eye on this cat," he said, referring to Beshwate.

Harrell said the request would not be considered during Friday's session and scheduled Stankewitz's next court appearance for Oct. 3.

Beshwate later shrugged off Stankewitz's criticism.

"I understand that he's frustrated with the system," he said.

Stankewitz was 19 when he was convicted of fatally shooting Graybeal. Now in his mid-50s, he still has flowing black hair that extends to the middle of his back. He has been on California's death row longer than any other inmate. His return to court in Fresno comes after a federal appellate court overturned his death sentence in 2012 due to incompetent counsel: His former lawyer didn't tell jurors about Stankewitz's abusive childhood or potential mental illness.

Stankewitz contends that he didn't kill Graybeal, but the appellate court declined to reverse his conviction. The appellate court wants a new jury to determine whether he should remain on death row until his execution or spend life in prison without parole.

The California Supreme Court tossed out Stankewitz's first death sentence in 1982, but a year later he was convicted again and sentenced again to death. The second death sentence didn't hold up, either. The Ninth Circuit U.S. District Court of Appeals ruled in October 2012 that the performance of his attorney "fell below the constitutional standards."

Stankewitz, an American Indian known as "Chief," grew up on the Big Sandy Rancheria in Auberry. Among the things the lawyer failed to tell jurors, the appellate court said, was that Stankewitz was born into a filthy, poverty-stricken home that had no electricity or running water. Alcoholic parents frequently starved Stankewitz and his nine siblings and beat them.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6339, jguy@fresnobee.com or @jimguy27 on Twitter.

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