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Summer Stephan, the veteran prosecutor who was hand-picked to become the interim county district attorney, is a near shoo-in to win election next year. But there’s at least one major obstacle in her way: the parents of a 12-year-old girl who was murdered in 1998 in Escondido.

The killing of Stephanie Crowe is one of the most baffling and notorious crimes in San Diego County history. Crowe’s 14-year-old brother and two of his friends were initially accused of her murder, but the case against them was eventually dropped. A homeless man was then accused and convicted of voluntary manslaughter, but the case was overturned and a jury found him not guilty. Two of the accused boys, now men in their 30s, were eventually declared factually innocent, and all three of their families won millions in settlement money.

Presumably, the killer of Stephanie Crowe is alive and free. And, as our Ashly McGlone writes, “the interrogations and prosecution of the three teenagers became a model failure of national significance.”

Stephan played a crucial role in the Crowe case, but she has distanced herself from it and her role in driving the case. Before the County Board of Supervisors appointed her as interim district attorney, Crowe’s parents released a blistering 22-page letter of accusations against her. Their voices could grow in influence as the 2018 DA election approaches. San Diego has a history of DA challengers successfully using their rivals’ failures against them at the ballot box, and Stephan’s opponents could ask the Crowes to speak out in TV commercials.

For a new VOSD special report, McGlone interviewed former judges and Stephan’s former boss and reviewed news stories and court records from nearly two decades ago to determine what Stephan’s role really was.

“If Stephan had misgivings about prosecuting Michael Crowe and his two friends for the murder of Crowe’s little sister in 1998, she didn’t show it,” McGlone reports. A now-retired judge who reviewed bail for the three young suspects said it was “chicken” of Stephan to distance herself from the case.

Stephan tells VOSD that she regrets not being able to get justice for the Crowe family.

Our New Podcast: ‘I Made It in San Diego’

In a new VOSD podcast called “I Made It in San Diego,” VOSD staffers will take turns illuminating the stories of the region’s businesses and entrepreneurs.

First up: Kinsee Morlan features Greg and Janet Deering, who make more banjos than any other instrument-maker in the world. Listen in to learn the crucial role played by “The Price Is Right” in helping the business take off.

Rep. Hunter’s Big Legal Spending

Embattled local Rep. Duncan Hunter (the younger) is facing investigations into how campaign funds ended up being spent on video games, a garage door, tuition and, as the U-T puts it, “unspecified items at a Coronado surf shop.” Now, the paper reports that Hunter’s “latest campaign reports show he spent $153,000 on attorney’s fees and incurred another $114,000 in debt to law firms from April to June. That compares to $80,000 in legal fees for the previous 10 months.”

Hunter has denied criminal wrongdoing. His campaign fund still had plenty of money as of June 30.

Politics Roundup: Ward Wants Instant Action on Homeless

Councilman Chris Ward wants the city to take immediate steps to combat the city’s grimly visible and heart-rending homeless problem: He wants to use downtown’s Golden Hall and other locations for “bridge” housing and he wants the city to survey city-controlled lots to see if they could serve as places where the homeless can set up camp without fear of arrest or citations. Some of the solutions being floated could also come up in potential settlement talks related to a new lawsuit filed against the city on behalf of the homeless.

A judge is targeting San Diego’s crackdown on “mini-dorms” around SDSU. (U-T)

 The city of San Diego could get a federal loan of almost half a billion dollars to support its water recycling program. (U-T)

 “San Diego may soon become the largest city in the nation to pass a law requiring city contractors and consultants to pay employees equally regardless of gender or ethnicity,” the U-T reports, joining the likes of San Francisco and San Jose.

The City Council will soon consider an equal pay law reflecting those that are already in place on the state and federal levels. Councilman Chris Ward said he wants the city to take its own stand and sock violators with fines, although he might allow exceptions for smaller businesses.

 An activist who’s “unsuccessfully sued states for the right to marry a laptop computer” has declared that homosexuality is a religion, and he’s suing three members of Congress, including local Rep. Susan Davis, for displaying gay pride flags outside their offices in Washington D.C. He wants $1 in damages, which is $1 more than he’ll get.

Insert Zinger Here: The Mayor’s Speech

It’s been a tradition for the mayor to give a speech before the Downtown San Diego Partnership and roast fellow politicians and other local power players. We’ve even gotten mocked ourselves in a moment that we grimly relive on cold winter evenings. But we digress.

CityBeat columnist John R. Lamb got a belated copy of this year’s speech, written by mayoral staffer Matt Awbrey, and it had some amusing moments, including this zinger directed at County Supervisor Ron Roberts’ wacky gondola proposal: “Riding a slow bucket swinging 40 feet above ground from Seaport Village to Mission Valley — who doesn’t want to do that?” And Mayor Kevin Faulconer took aim at County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar, who voted against raising her own salary but will get the raise nonetheless: “She’s like the person at dinner who says, ‘I don’t want any dessert, but you know … if the rest of the table orders it … I’ll take a little bite.’”

And there’s this that warms the cockles of our cynical, shriveled journalist hearts: “No alternative facts — unless you work at SANDAG.”

North County Times: More Housing Drama in Encinitas

This week’s VOSD North County Report leads off with news about more wrangling over affordable housing in the very-unaffordable Encinitas, which has had a hard time meeting state law requiring cities to plan for new homes.

A tenant advocate was blunt with Coast News: “Encinitas hides under a guise of protecting community character and the environment, but the city’s real goal is evident: keep out the working class people of color.”

Also: Tough times and dead horses at the Del Mar Races, new Council districts in Carlsbad could pit lawmakers against each other and a big campaign windfall for one of Rep. Darrell Issa’s challengers.

Quick News Hits: A Lannister Always Pays … His Bar Tab

Carmageddon is coming to the border in September. (LA Times)

 Pardon me, do you speak Surfer? The Reader interviewed a young surfer and got this quote: “I usually go to OB, but it’s mostly right-hand waves so I go over to Pacific Beach because it has waves for both right and left hands. I’m goofy, but I’m getting better with my right side.”

 The L.A. Times takes an extensive and evocative look inside the convention center’s Hall H, “the most important room in Hollywood”: “Aromatic top notes of hot dogs and cooling nachos waft through the air, mingling with the distinct bouquet of 6,500 amped-up human bodies. Many have forgone showers and sleep to camp out overnight in the humid summer heat for the chance to be here, to cram themselves, elbow to elbow, into one of the seemingly endless rows of unforgiving folding chairs. Year after year, this is the scene that plays out inside this modern geek cathedral …”

 Local restaurants and bars are rolling out the food and drink carts for Comic-Con attendees this weekend, NBC 7 reports.

Taco dishes are named El Heroé, The Villain and The Femme Fatale, and there’s a Drax the Destroyer burger. And a fish joint will offer chopsticks that look like light sabers, in case you’d like to fight with your dinner companion over the entree.

And, of course, there are adult beverages for the comic nerds over 21. In order of how cool they sound, here are a few of the offerings: The Hulk, the Deadpool Bloody Mary, the Pop Bam Slam Mule, the Daughter of Zeus, Commissioner Gordon and the White Walker (“white rum mixed with coconut rum, shaken with pineapple juice, Tuaca and blue Curacao”).

There’s also a drink called the Invisible Jet. Hmm. The other drinks sound fine, but this one … I just can’t see it.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the original charge for which a homeless man was convicted in the Stephanie Crowe case, before the conviction was overturned.

Randy Dotinga

Randy Dotinga is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego. Please contact him directly at randydotinga@gmail.com...

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