No death penalty for convicted killer Douglas Stankewitz in 1978 murder, says Fresno DA

Douglas Stankewitz
Douglas Stankewitz

The Fresno County District Attorney’s Office announced Friday prosecutors will no longer pursue the death penalty for convicted killer Douglas Stankewitz.

Stankewitz was convicted for the 1978 kidnapping and killing of Theresa Greybeal. He instead will be resentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, a sentence the District Attorney’s Office called “fair and just” in a news release.

Stankewitz, 60, an American Indian known as “Chief” is the longest tenured condemned inmate at San Quentin State Prison.

On Feb. 7, 1978, 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 contends he is innocent and prosecutors lied to jurors.

Stankewitz’s case throughout the years has taken multiple twists and turns. The case was tried twice, and both resulted in a guilty verdict. After the first trial, the California Supreme Court reversed the convictions because Stankewitz’s competency to stand trial was not addressed. He was found competent prior to the second trial, in which 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 for relief in federal court, which found his attorney did not investigate and present evidence during the penalty phase of his trial that could have changed the jury’s decision. In 2009, a federal judge affirmed Stankewitz’s guilt but reversed his death sentence. Three years later, an appeals court agreed with that decision.

The latest development happened after the District Attorney’s Office reviewed and weighed information the juries didn’t hear, according to the release.

That information included details about Stankewitz’s troubled childhood, which one psychiatrist described as “totally lacking in love, warmth and affection, and frequently filled with deprivation, rejection and punishment.”

The District Attorney’s Office noted Stankewitz was born into a poor home where there rarely was enough food for the 10 children. The home was dirty, filled with vermin and without running water or electricity.

By the time Stankewitz was 5 years old, he started sniffing paint and soon began drinking alcohol and using other hard drugs.

He was physically and mentally abused by both his parents and older siblings. His mother drank alcohol excessively while pregnant with him and his father repeatedly hit her in the abdomen. Before turning 1 year old, Stankewitz was taken to the emergency room three times.

His father ridiculed him for being light skinned and told him not to take his prescribed medication. At 6 years old, Stankewitz’s mother beat him so badly with an electrical cord she went to jail and he was placed in the care of the state. The abuse from his older siblings resulted in a “substantial indentation on his cranium,” the District Attorney’s Office reported.

After being removed from his home at 6 years old, Stankewitz was shuffled from one institution to the next and spent the next 13 years until his arrest in some form of government care. During these placements, he was massively and unnecessarily drugged, tied to beds, beaten, sexually molested, neglected, deliberately tortured and abused by staff, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

While at Napa State Hospital at age 6, he was sexually abused by hospital staff, heavily medicated and placed with psychotic and autistic children even though he never received those diagnoses.

While in a foster home, he was prescribed extremely high doses of medication and would wet the bed and defecate in it. He’d smear his feces on the wall. He continued wetting the bed until he was nearly 12 years old.

His foster mother taught him how to talk instead of grunt, use the toilet, dress himself, use silverware and ask for things instead of grab them, the release said.

Mental health records show Stankewitz suffers from a borderline intellectual disability. His IQ is 79. He also suffers from significant brain dysfunction, possibly tied to fetal alcohol syndrome and childhood abuse.

Brianna Calix: 559-441-6166, @BriannaCalix

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Brianna Calix covers politics and investigations for The Bee, where she works to hold public officials accountable and shine a light on issues that deeply affect residents’ lives. She previously worked for The Bee’s sister paper, the Merced Sun-Star, and earned her bachelor’s degree from Fresno State.