Richard D. Stokley
9th Circuit upholds death sentence for Cochise County man
A federal appeals court upheld Monday the death sentence of Richard D. Stokley for the rape and murder of two 13-year-old Elfrida girls in 1991.
Stokley had appealed the capital sentence, saying his trial lawyers did not present evidence that he suffers from organic brain damage.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied Stokley's appeal.
"Although trial counsel’s actions may seem imperfect in hindsight, counsel undertook an extensive investigation into Stokley’s mental health, arranged for him to be evaluated by a neuropsychologist, and presented testimony from a psychologist and a neurologist," a three-judge panel said in an opinion filed Monday.
"Stokley has not presented a colorable claim that counsel’s actions were constitutionally ineffective," the court said.
Arizona's attorney general hailed the decision in a press release: "The date for Stokley’s sentence to be carried out has not been set, but I am hopeful that this killer will be brought to justice without excessive delay from the federal system. The families of the victims deserve to see justice in a timely manner," Tom Horne said.
Attorneys handling Stokley's appeal were not immediately available for comment.
Stokley was convicted for kidnapping, raping and murdering Mandy Meyers and Mary Snyder from a campsite near Elfrida on July 7, 1991.
An accomplice, Randy Brazeal, was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 20 years in the case.
Brazeal, who was released from prison in July, turned himself into police the day after the crime. Then 19 years old, he said that Stokley - 38 at the time - forced him to participate as he attacked the girls. Mandy and Mary were raped and strangled by the pair, stomped and stabbed in their right eyes by Stokley and then thrown down a flooded mine shaft by Brazeal and Stokley.
After Brazeal's lawyer invoked his speedy trial rights, prosecutors agreed to a plea deal rather than move ahead with a trial without DNA tests having been completed.
Months later, Stokley was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of kidnapping and one count of sexual conduct with a minor.
At sentencing, Stokley's attorneys presented evidence of substance abuse, including evidence that he was intoxicated at the time of the crime.
"Counsel also placed considerable weight on the argument that Stokley’s 'capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of law,' was impaired by both a personality disorder and head injuries," the appeals court summarized Monday:
Counsel relied on two medical experts to establish that Stokley did not have the capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law at the time of the crime. Dr. Michael Mayron, a neurologist, testified that Stokley “suffered multiple head injuries throughout his life,” including a blow to the frontal area of his brain with a car jack and an incident in which he suffered “a left parietal compound depressed skull fracture with left parietal lobe contusion” after being hit with a beer mug. Mayron believed that these injuries caused moderate or severe brain damage and weakened Stokley’s ability to control his impulses and emotions.
Dr. Larry Morris, a psychologist, testified that in his opinion Stokley “experience[s] difficulties with impulse control and poor judgment” and “tends not to study consequences well but responds impulsively instead.” More specifically, Morris diagnosed Stokley with borderline personality disorder and explained that the impulsivity associated with that condition, especially as exacerbated by stress and alcohol, “make[s] it difficult for [Stokley] to conform his behavior to . . . th[e] law.”
Regarding Stokley’s claim of mental incapacity, the [trial] court concluded that Stokley’s “capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct was not significantly impaired” at the time of the crime. In the sentencing court’s view, “[h]aving suffered head injuries and having difficulty with impulse control shed[ ] little light on [Stokley’s] conduct in this case,” because the evidence “does not show that [Stokley] acted impulsively, only criminally, with evil motive.” The [trial] court sentenced Stokley to death.