Supreme Court upholds death penalty in Lemoore girl's murder

The Fresno BeeAugust 19, 2014 

The California Supreme Court has upheld the death penalty verdict against Gene Estel McCurdy, 54, who was found guilty 17 years ago of murdering 8-year-old Maria Piceno of Lemoore.

In an opinion last week, the state high court unanimously rejected the automatic appeal.

Piceno disappeared in March 1995 after leaving her mother's apartment to go to the store. Her body was found two weeks later in a Kern County creek.

McCurdy, who grew up in Wasco, was a first class petty officer based at Lemoore Naval Air Station and was on an aircraft carrier when he was arrested about six weeks after the girl disappeared.

In 1997, a Kings County jury found him guilty of murder with the special circumstance of kidnapping, and kidnapping to commit a lewd act on a child under 14.

The appeal claimed McCurdy should have had a change of venue, statements to detectives should have been suppressed, testimony by his sister should have been rejected, and jury instructions were faulty.

Larry Crouch, chief trial attorney for the Kings County District Attorney's Office, said he expects more appeals will be filed in the case.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6104, or @fb_LewGriswold on Twitter.

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