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Decades-old death penalty overturned for Chico man

Published On: Oct 07 2013 08:09:54 PM CDT   Updated On: Oct 07 2013 11:32:56 PM CDT
CHICO, Calif. -

His name is Steven Crittenden.  He was sent to death row 24 years ago for killing a Chico doctor and his wife.
But now, a federal judge has overturned his sentence.  The judge says Butte County's prosecutor at the time, Jerry Flanagan dismissed a juror because she was black.  Butte County investigators are furious about it.

District Attorney Mike Ramsey says accusing Flanagan of being a racist is insulting. He says the juror was dismissed because she didn't believe in the death penalty.

Crittenden was convicted of stabbing and killing Drs. William and Katherine Chiapellas in their home back in 1987.  The case was moved to Placer County- because of how widely known the Chiapellas were in Chico
Crittenden was sentenced to death and has spent 24 years on San Quentin's death row.  The federal judge ruled the prosecutor dismissed the only African American in the jury pool. Ramsey says the ruling came as a shock.

"To even imply in any way that he is a racist is absolutely 180 degrees out and insulting," said Ramsey.

The judge has given the state the option of either moving toward a retrial or setting Crittenden free within 60 days. If Crittenden does get re-tried, he'll be back at the Butte County Courthouse.  He remains on death row until all of this gets sorted out.

Ramsey didn't say whether he'll seek the death penalty if Crittenden is re-tried.   He says they'll have to gather all the evidence and witnesses from a crime that happened so long ago.