The statement of a jailhouse snitch that prosecutors delayed in turning over to defense attorneys played a significant role in a jury’s decision Monday to acquit a woman accused of murder, the panel’s foreman said.
In an interview after the verdict, the foreman said the informant’s statement established in the jury’s mind that Stacy Ann Perryman, 45, and Bryan David Denton, 51, didn’t plan to rob Stephen Sieck or burglarize his apartment last year on the day he was stabbed to death.
“We followed the book,” said the foreman, who declined to give his name.
Sieck, 60, was killed on May 19, 2012, when he was stabbed 24 times in the head and neck. The informant, Ray Montez, told investigators that Denton admitted to him he had fatally stabbed Sieck because the victim had Perryman “turning tricks for him” as a prostitute.
When detectives asked Montez if the two went over to Sieck’s Selby Ranch apartment to steal his stuff or rob or burglarize him, the informant responded, “No, it ended up being a theft after he was dead.”
“He was asked very specifically” if Perryman and Denton went to Sieck’s place to rip him off, “and his answer was specifically” that Denton told him it was “not to do that,” the foreman said.
Perryman’s attorney, Jennifer Mouzis, said the informant’s statement amounted to critical evidence on behalf of her client. Perryman had been charged under the theory of felony murder. It holds that a defendant is guilty of murder if somebody gets killed during the commission of an inherently dangerous crime such as robbery or burglary.
Mouzis claimed she should have been provided with Montez’s statement before trial, but Deputy District Attorney Eric Kindall didn’t turn it over to her and Denton’s attorney, Laurance J. Smith, until after the two lawyers had given their opening statements to the jury.
Kindall said in court he didn’t disclose the statement earlier because it would have endangered Montez, who has since been convicted and imprisoned on gun and drug charges. The prosecutor said the defense lawyers already had essentially the same information from another informant.
Mouzis, however, asked Judge Russell L. Hom to dismiss the case while Smith made a motion for a mistrial on behalf of Denton. The judge on Oct. 21 granted the mistrial on Denton, because the informant’s statement affected his possible defense strategies in the case – Smith had said during his opening statement that his client wasn’t in the apartment at the time of the killing.
The judge denied Mouzis’ dismissal motion on grounds that Perryman was not substantially prejudiced, because the defense attorney still could use Montez’s statement on her client’s behalf. The jury foreman on Monday said it was just that evidence that persuaded the jury to acquit the woman.
“Evidence showed through a witness statement” – Montez’s – “that there was no intent to rob or steal before they came into the residence,” the foreman said.
The day of the killing, Perryman and Denton drove up in a U-Haul to Sieck’s apartment complex at Watt Avenue and American River Drive. Montez told sheriff’s Detective Brian Meux that Denton told him he and Perryman rented the U-Haul “to get all the TVs or everything out of (Sieck’s) apartment.” But the foreman said the evidence still did not clearly establish for the jury that the taking of Sieck’s belongings amounted to a theft. Mouzis argued that Sieck had consented to their taking some stuff out of his apartment.
Montez said Denton told him the killing was “an afterthought,” and that it took place during an argument over money.
The foreman said, “We believe the killing was spontaneous and without forethought.”
Although the jury acquitted Perryman on murder and manslaughter charges, as well as robbery and burglary, they did convict her of aiding and abetting the arson fire set in Sieck’s apartment the day after the killing. Prosecutors say the defendants set his body on fire to hide evidence. She is facing a maximum term of eight years in prison.
Denton, meanwhile, is back in court for further proceedings on Friday in his murder case.
In an interview after the verdict, Mouzis said the jury acquitted Perryman because “they followed the law.”
“I think the jury did what they were legally required to do, given the evidence in this case and the confession that Mr. Denton gave to Mr. Montez,” Mouzis said. “They absolutely did the right thing.”
Kindall declined to comment on the verdict. Assistant Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Grippi said, “Some verdicts are difficult to comprehend, but this is our system of justice. This is what we all signed on for. The jury has spoken. We accept the verdict because we must.”
Sieck’s sister, Sherry Lohmeier Barrett, said she was stunned by the outcome.
“I don’t get it,” she said outside the courthouse.
Barrett also sought to soften the portrait of her slain brother that emerged at trial. Sieck was depicted as somebody who frequented strip joints and lap dancers, sought out prostitutes online and tried his hand as a pimp.
“He wasn’t a pimp,” Barrett said.
She described her brother as a onetime painting contractor and Vietnam War vet who for nearly four years volunteered twice a week at a Veterans Affairs hospital when he was living in New Mexico.