Cary Stayner, also known as The Yosemite Killer, was convicted nearly 20 years ago in the murders of four people in 1999 while he was working as a hotel handyman in California. Stayner’s case was granted additional attention because of his brother, Steven Stayner, who had been kidnapped and was missing for seven years.
Stayner was questioned several times by law enforcement and eventually confessed to the 1999 murders of 42-year-old Carole Sund, her 15-year-old daughter Juli, their 16-year-old family friend Silvina Pelosso and Joie Armstrong, a 26-year-old Yosemite naturalist, according to History.
ABC 20/20 is digging into the case on a new episode, which airs at 9 p.m. Eastern time Friday, July 2, 2021.
Here’s what you need to know:
Stayner Is on Death Row in San Quentin State Prison in California, Along With Scott Peterson
Stayner is on death row, serving time with a man convicted in another high-profile murder case, Scott Peterson. Peterson had been condemned to death row, but his sentence was overturned and he is awaiting a new trial in the death of his wife, Laci Peterson, and their unborn son, Conner.
FBI Special Agent Jeffrey Rinek wrote in his book, “In the Name of the Children: An FBI Agent’s Relentless Pursuit of the Nation’s Worst Predators,” that Stayner believed when he was giving his confession that he would be sentenced to death. But Rinek recalled Stayner saying he would die with a clear conscience.
“It means I can die with a clear conscience now, whenever that day comes,” Stayner said, according to Rinek. “I know they’re going to give me the death penalty. Even if I confess, they are going to give me death.”
Nearly 20 years later, Stayner is still on death row, his prison record shows.
Here is his prison record:
He is now 59 years old.
Here is his prison record from VINELink:
Stayner Felt Responsible for His Brother’s Kidnapping & Thought His Violent Fantasies Caused It to Happen
Stayner had a traumatic childhood involving sexual abuse, the kidnapping of his younger brother by a pedophile, and feelings of guilt that he could not protect his brother, Rinek wrote in his book. Rinek wrote that even though the abuse likely “poured fuel on a fire” for Stayner to eventually commit murder, it was a fire “that had already begun to smolder” before he was sexually abused and before his brother was kidnapped.
Steven Stayner was kidnapped when Cary Stayner was 11, Rinek wrote. By that time, Cary Stayner was already having grotesque fantasies, the agent wrote.
According to a psychiatrist who would later evaluate Stayner for his defense team, the Stayner family tree was riven with mental illness and sexual abuse going back five generations. According to the psychiatrist’s report, Stayner’s father, Delbert Stayner, was ordered into therapy for molesting his own daughters. In addition to her father’s unwanted advances, one of Stayner’s sisters said that Cary started peeping on her and inappropriately touching her when she was ten. A cousin said that Stayner spied on her and his sisters and a neighbor girl, hiding under their beds and secretly videotaping them in the bathroom and bedroom. One relative described child sexual abuse as “like a family sickness” because it had been going on for so many generations.
The fact that Stayner’s brother was kidnapped by a pedophile and abused for seven years adds an almost unfathomable dimension to the tragedy that enveloped this family. As the older brother, Stayner felt a natural if undeserved sense of responsibility for not protecting Steven from harm. He also felt more directly responsible. Stayner told another psychiatrist, Park Dietz, who was hired by the prosecution to evaluate whether he was sane at the time he committed the Yosemite murders, that as a child he worried that the obsessive thoughts he had about holding the neighbor girl against her will somehow caused Steven to be kidnapped.
Stayner’s parents “withdrew emotionally” after Steven went missing, Rinek wrote. Stayner’s father, Delbert Stayner, was accused of sexually abusing his daughters, and Rinek wrote sexual abuse in the family went back at least five generations. Still, Stayner wanted to help his parents, so he asked as a condition of his confession that a $250,000 reward offered by his victims’ family members go to his own family, Rinek wrote.