Tuesday, 27 September 2022

New hearings ordered in decades-old Stanley murder case

LAKE COUNTY – A federal judge has found that juror misconduct and a breach of due process requires a reexamination of whether or not a man sentenced to death in 1984 for killing his wife was mentally competent to stand trial.


Judge Frank C. Damrell Jr. of the U.S. District Court for California's Eastern District made the ruling March 17 in the case of Gerald Frank Stanley, 63, whose appeal was made on his behalf by federal defenders.


Stanley was convicted of the Aug. 11, 1980 murder of his wife, Cynthia Rogers Stanley, in Nice, according to case records.


Damrell ordered proceedings to begin within 30 days of his ruling on whether or not a new competency hearing – nearly a quarter-century later – should be held.


District Attorney Jon Hopkins said he intends to appear in Butte County Superior Court – where Stanley's trial was moved due to pretrial publicity – on Thursday morning.


There, Hopkins will ask Judge Sandra McLean to set a hearing on the feasibility of holding a retrospective competency hearing in the case.


Stanley reportedly shot his wife with a sniper rifle while she was at her father's resort in Nice, according to Lake County News research into the case. Stanley then fled the scene, with authorities launching one of the largest manhunts in county history in an attempt to find him. Stanley later was arrested at his mother's Anderson home.


Robert Crone, then the Lake County District Attorney, prosecuted the case, which was reported to have cost the state $1 million, research of the case revealed. Crone and his prosecution team lived in Butte County for nearly a year while the trial was under way.


On Feb. 7, 1984, Stanley was sentenced to die in the gas chamber, according to State Department of Corrections documents. He has remained on San Quentin's death row since then.


Hopkins emphasized that Stanley's guilt is not in question, and he's not going to be released. In fact, Damrell upheld the finding of guilt in the Stanley case, as has the California Supreme Court, court records show.


“The guilt stands,” said Hopkins.


If the competency trial is held again and Stanley is ruled incompetent, he would no longer be subject to the death penalty and instead would be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, Hopkins said.


One of the factors cited in Damrell's ruling was juror misconduct in the trial's competency phase, court documents show.


At the beginning of the Stanley trial's penalty phase – in which jurors were to consider whether he was to receive the death sentence – doubts about Stanley's competency were raised, Hopkins explained.


That resulted in a three-month break in the proceedings while a competency trial took place, and Stanley was ruled mentally competent to stand trial, Hopkins said.


Later, however, it was found that one of the jurors in that trial allegedly was guilty of misconduct because she failed to state that she had been a violence victim, said Hopkins. That was a concern because it could have affected her ability to make an impartial decision.


Damrell's ruling also pointed to a statement by an expert witness in the case that Stanley was incompetent as of 1981, which contradicted that witness' previous testimony.


The issue now, said Hopkins, is a complicated one.


“We have to engage in the process of deciding his competency 25 years ago,” he said.


Such proceedings are not unheard of, said Hopkins, although they're rare. He pointed to other, similar cases in other federal circuit courts where retrospective competency hearings have been ordered. “There is some precedent.”


In addition to pursuing the request for a hearing on the feasibility of a retrospective hearing, Hopkins also asked to have Stanley brought from death row to the Butte County Jail in Oroville, a duty that fell to Butte County Sheriff Perry Reniff's office. Stanley is expected to remain in custody in Oroville during the proceedings.


Hopkins also plans to file a motion to have Stanley's case brought back to Lake County if it's decided to go through with a new competency trial.


Originally, the defense was granted a change of venue due to pretrial publicity. However, Hopkins believes he can successfully argue that enough time has passed that the case is no longer well known locally, and a competency proceeding could find an unbiased pool of jurors.


Stanley's federal appeal is not being carried out at his request, according to previous statements Stanley has made to this reporter.


Several years ago Stanley began trying to have the appeals process stopped with the help of Jack Leavitt, a Hayward-based attorney, according to interviews with both men.


Stanley stated that due to his failing health he was seeking an execution date and, if one was granted, he had offered to disclose the location of the body of Diana Lynn Ramel, a woman with whom he was romantically involved and who disappeared in February 1980. He has stated he did not kill her.


He did, however, murder his first wife, Kathleen Rhiley, in 1975 as she was taking their children to school in Concord, according to Lake County News research. Stanley served four and a half years for that crime.


At one point Stanley also was believed to have been involved in the murder of a young Redding woman, Sheryl Ranee Wright, who was last seen the day before Cynthia Rogers was shot, according to case research.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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