Stavenjord wants new trial; accuses attorneys of incompetence

Posted: Tuesday, June 13, 2000

PALMER (AP) -- A man sentenced to 198 years in prison for the shooting death of a Big Lake couple is back in court, arguing for a new trial.

Paul Stavenjord claims two of the best known defense lawyers in the state, Carmen Gutierrez and Jim McComas, forced him to lie on the stand and ignored evidence, including a rifle he claims using in self-defense.

The lawyers have denied Stavenjord's claims.

Stavenjord was convicted in 1998 on two counts of first-degree murder in the slayings of Deborah Rehor, 40, and her husband, Carl ''Rick'' Beery, 48. The couple disappeared on Memorial Day weekend of 1997 while visiting their cabin in the Chulitna area northeast of Talkeetna.

Their bodies eventually were found in nearby Pass Creek. Both had been shot in the head.

Stavenjord said at Monday's hearing that he told Gutierrez about the rifle and offered to draw her a map showing where he hid it. But he contends that she refused to retrieve it.

He said Gutierrez and McComas insisted that he tell jurors he shot Beery with a .22-caliber pistol.

Stavenjord's new attorneys, public defenders Greg Heath and George Davenport, said that could have cost Stavenjord the case.

Stavenjord repeatedly told McComas and Gutierrez he shot Beery with the .22-caliber pistol, both said in signed affidavits.

They knew nothing about a rifle until after the trial when Stavenjord told Heath and Davenport about it, at which point the rifle was retrieved.

Stavenjord first denied being involved in the killings, but later admitted he shot Beery.

He claimed he fired in self-defense after Beery discovered him and Rehor together half-naked, opened fire and shot his own wife by mistake.

The gun was significant because Stavenjord testified he shot Beery with a .22-caliber pistol he kept in his outhouse and because Gutierrez told jurors in opening statements the pistol was used to kill Beery.

Those statements later were contradicted by ballistics evidence. In closing statements, the prosecutor told jurors the contradiction was proof Stavenjord was lying.

Prosecutors again attacked Stavenjord's credibility Monday.

Assistant District Attorney Bill Estelle noted that for more than six months he told his attorneys that he wasn't involved at all in the deaths.

Estelle also questioned whether Stavenjord really told his attorneys about the rifle.

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