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Think this couldn’t happen to your family? Think again.
In the winter of January 1998, the small town of Escondido, California, was horrified when the body of 12-year-old Stephanie Crowe was found brutally murdered in her own bedroom. The police used psychological manipulation to force three 14-year-old boys to falsely confess to the murder. She’s So Cold traces the twists and turns of a real-life mystery which eventually changed the lives of fifteen people and cost a district attorney his job.
To protect children and teens from such manipulation in the future, McInnis proposes a new Children’s Miranda Rights Warning and a Bill of Rights for Children who are being questioned as suspects. These proposals must be adopted in order to prevent minors from making false confessions that could destroy their futures.
She’s So Cold is the story of a broken system. A system stacked against families and, most of all, against children.
As one of the defense attorneys in the Crowe murder case, what enrages me most about the botched investigation into the brutal death of 12-year-old Stephanie Crowe is that her father, Steven, and mother, Cheryl, never got the closure of knowing that the real killer had been caught, convicted, and sentenced to prison. To make matters worse, these parents had to suffer through the horror of their 14-year-old son being prosecuted for Stephanie’s murder.
The incredibly frustrating fact is that the Escondido detectives had all the evidence they needed to arrest the man whom a jury would eventually convict for killing the little girl. Instead, they followed the hunch of a uniformed officer who felt Michael was not showing enough grief over the loss of his sister.
What evidence did the detectives overlook? On the night of the stabbing of young Stephanie Crowe, a vagrant named Richard Tuite was seen in the neighborhood peering through windows, knocking on doors, and walking into homes looking for a young woman named Tracy – a young woman who looked like Stephanie.
The day after the discovery of Stephanie’s body, the police had already decided that the murder was the result of a well-thought-out plan, since they had found no evidence at the murder scene that could lead them to the murderer. The police therefore expanded their initial investigation and went looking for the 28-year-old vagrant. Tuite was found in a laundromat several miles away from the Crowes’ home. The patrol officer, following protocol, took Tuite to the police station, where the suspect was stripped of his clothes, photographed, interviewed, and given new clothing; his clothing was bagged and catalogued. In the investigating officer’s opinion, however, Tuite was mentally incapable of such a “sophisticated” murder, so he was released.
Tuite’s clothing, along with clothing of the Crowe family, was examined by the local crime lab. No physical evidence was found connecting anyone to the murder. But instead of sending the clothing on to another lab for advanced DNA testing, the evidence was stored at the police station.
Since the police had no other leads, they turned to 14-year-old Michael Crowe. After two days of interrogation, they got a confession. Two friends of Michael’s, 14-year-old Joshua Treadway and 15-year-old Aaron Houser, were also interrogated, and incriminating statements were obtained. The Escondido police had their man, or at least their boys. Case closed.
Until a year after the murder, when the defense attorneys for the three boys demanded further DNA testing, and Tuite’s clothing was sent to an advanced lab in Berkeley, California. By now, Joshua Treadway’s trial was starting. Then came the news that shocked everyone: Tuite’s clothing had splatters of Stephanie’s blood on it. All charges against the boys were dropped and Tuite was charged for Stephanie’s murder.
Very few of us know what it is like to lose a child, much less by the supposed hand of your own son, who you know in your heart could not have committed such a horrible act. Steven and Cheryl had to live with this terrible reality simply because the police proceeded on a hunch and saw no need to send Tuite’s clothing for further DNA testing.
But the dismissal of charges against Michael was not the end of the Crowe family’s suffering. After two jury trials for murder and nearly 12 years after Stephanie’s death, Richard Tuite was found not guilty of the murder, due in part to how the police handled the evidence. Not only did the one person the Crowes felt could have murdered Stephanie go free, but now this family faced the worst possible ending to their daughter’s death — no closure. One can’t image the continuing pain the Crowe family has had to live with these last 20 years.
It is hoped my book She’s So Cold, a true and accurate telling of the failed police investigation, once and for all sets the story straight as to why Michael and his friend were maliciously interrogated and prosecuted for a crime they did not commit. Their story of what happens when the police interrogate a child is a warning to every parent: Do not let this happen to your child.
In an effort to prevent such catastrophes in the future, I propose new Miranda rights warnings specifically worded so children can better understand their constitutional rights, and a Bill of Rights for Children for when they are being investigated by police. These new protections are in the Appendix to She’s So Cold. We need not repeat the painful agony that the Crowe family continues to live with to this very day.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Donald E. McInnis is the author of She’s So Cold: Murder, Accusations and the System that Devastated a Family. He is a California criminal defense attorney, and he represented one of the three accused boys, Aaron Houser, in the Stephanie Crowe murder case. Over the span of his 40-year legal career, Mr. McInnis has worked alternately for the prosecution and for the defense, having served as a deputy district attorney for two California counties and as a deputy public defender for one California county during his early professional years. For more information, please visit https://donaldmcinnis.com
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