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Stayner Charged in Yosemite Murders

October 20, 1999 GMT

MARIPOSA, Calif. (AP) _ Three months after he confessed to killing three women who were sightseeing in Yosemite National Park, motel handyman Cary Stayner was charged Wednesday with their murders.

If convicted, Stayner, 38, could face the death penalty.

FBI investigators said Stayner confessed in late July to killing Carole Sund, 42, her daughter Juli Sund, 15, and their Argentine friend Silvina Pelosso, 16, while the three were visiting the park in February.

He confessed while being questioned in the beheading of Yosemite naturalist Joie Ruth Armstrong, 26. Stayner, who also said he killed Ms. Armstrong, has pleaded innocent in that case.

Investigators said they waited to charge Stayner in the sightseers’ slayings until they could rule out the possibility that he had accomplices.

Even after Stayner told investigators and a TV reporter that he acted alone, some members of the FBI task force handling the case said they believed drug-abusing ex-cons might have been involved.

Stayner told the FBI he sexually assaulted Juli and Silvina in their motel room before killing them. He also led agents to the knives he said he had used to decapitate the naturalist and slash Juli’s throat, a federal affidavit said.

The complaint filed Wednesday charges him with murder, burglary, robbery, forcible oral copulation and attempted rape. The charges came without any public comment by the FBI and only a short statement from Mariposa County District Attorney Christine Johnson.

Mrs. Sund, her daughter and teen-age friend were last seen at the Cedar Lodge motel, where Stayner worked. Relatives reported them missing Feb. 17 when they didn’t arrive as planned in San Francisco.

The following month, authorities discovered the bodies of Mrs. Sund and Silvina in the trunk of their rental car, which had been set on fire and abandoned along a logging road. Juli’s body was found a few days later in a thicket near a lake.

Stayner was questioned repeatedly but never considered a suspect in the sightseers’ deaths. Agents began searching for him again when he failed to show up for work the day after Armstrong’s body was found in a remote corner of Yosemite, not far from the motel. He was arrested at a nudist camp three days later.

Unless there’s a change in venue, the case will be tried in the state’s oldest operating courthouse, in a courtroom with a wood-burning stove, where proceedings must pause every hour because of noise from the bell tolling in the clock tower.