Cheryl Crowe, right, mother of murdered 12-year-old Stephanie Crowe, pleaded with county supervisors to not appoint Summer Stephan interim district attorney. / Image via San Diego County

For a time, Summer Stephan appeared poised to stroll easily into the job of interim district attorney. She was former DA Bonnie Dumanis’ pick for the job, and political observers widely assumed the County Board of Supervisors would be a rubber-stamp.

Then the Crowe family stepped in.

Cheryl Crowe said the way Stephan handled her daughter Stephanie Crowe’s homicide case should trouble everyone.

“My daughter Stephanie is in a grave. She was murdered, and her killer got away with it. I think it would have been a lot different if Summer Stephan had not been assigned to the case,” Cheryl Crowe tearfully told the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. “(Stephan) was mean, unethical and incompetent.”

Over the Crowes’ objections, county supervisors appointed Stephan over two other candidates. Stephan now has the advantage of incumbency going into the November 2018 election.

But Cheryl Crowe’s appearance alongside her daughter Shannon at the June meeting, and a scorching 22-page letter she co-wrote with her husband Stephen Crowe, thrust the case, and Stephan’s role in it, back into the spotlight. It also raised questions about the DA appointment process itself.

Stephanie Crowe was stabbed to death in her Escondido bedroom in 1998. Police zeroed in on Stephanie’s 14-year-old brother and his two friends, all freshmen in high school.

Stephan led the prosecution against the boys the final nine months before the case fell apart on the eve of trial in February 1999.

But in her application for interim district attorney, Stephan minimized her role and made it sound as if she joined the case months later than she did.

In the end, a homeless man wandering the Crowes’ neighborhood the night of the murder was prosecuted. Stephanie’s blood was found on his clothing.

A jury found the man, Richard Tuite, guilty of voluntary manslaughter in 2004, but the conviction was overturned, and Tuite was acquitted by a second jury in 2013 and set free.

Michael Crowe and his friend Joshua Treadway were legally exonerated, and the boys’ three families obtained millions in settlement money from Escondido and Oceanside police.

No one stands convicted of Stephanie’s murder.

Though the Board of Supervisors did ultimately pick Stephan, the Crowes’ forceful objections to her appointment provoked an important conversation about whether Dumanis and the board were overreaching by bestowing Dumanis’ preferred successor with the power of incumbency.

Stephan’s record and qualifications were vetted more closely than they otherwise would have been had the Crowes not raised their voices.

This is part of our Voice of the Year package, profiling the people who drove the biggest conversations in San Diego in 2017.

Ashly is a freelance investigative reporter. She formerly worked as a staff reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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