Longest-serving death row inmate returns to the Valley

FRESNO, Calif.

Douglas Stankiewitz was convicted of murdering 22-year-old Theresa Graybeal in 1978. A new jury will decide whether he should remain on death row or spend life in prison.

Douglas Stankewitz is upbeat and in good spirits according to a visitor he had Thursday in the Fresno County Jail. Despite being isolated from other inmates and having few jail amenities, Stankewitz is looking forward to another shot at a new sentence.

"Now, Mr. Stankewitz has more determination and strength and a positive attitude than I have ever seen. He's very determined to get this done. He is very determined to see a new trial take place," said Laura Wass, American Indian Movement Director.

Wass has sent and received letters from Stankewitz for 17 years. She has also extensively researched his case. She believes he is innocent.

"Because of being able to talk to all the parties, witnesses, as well as those who were there as well as reading all the transcripts," Wass said.

The 55-year-old was moved from San Quentin to Fresno. He was sentenced twice to the gas chamber for kidnapping and shooting Theresa Graybeal. But, last year a federal judge ruled jurors were not told about his rough childhood and mental health problems. Friday, Stankewitz's attorney asked to keep his client local to help him prepare their case.

"Especially considering the amount of time that has passed, there's a social investigation that we've embarked upon that requires quite a bit of communication between my office, myself, my experts and Mr. Stankewitz," Stankewitz's Attorney Richard Seshwate said.

His attorney says for several reasons, his client was cheated, not only when he was sentenced previously, but also when his case was initially presented at trial decades ago.

"He was a 6-year-old boy being kept at juvenile hall. He was forced medications at times. Foster homes, abuse, anything you can imagine. If this case happened today, this would have never been a death penalty case." Seshwate said.

Stankewitz's attorney said he needs at least another year to prepare for the penalty phase. The judge agreed to set it tentatively for spring of 2015.

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