Judge rejects Stavenjord move for a new trial

Posted: Thursday, June 15, 2000

PALMER (AP) -- Paul Stavenjord will not get a new trial in the shooting deaths of two Big Lake residents.

Superior Court Judge Eric Smith said Wednesday that the lawyers who defended Stavenjord at his murder trial may have made some mistakes, but not enough that he deserves a new trial.

''In my mind, they made a tactical choice,'' the judge said. ''I can't say it was an incompetent tactical choice.''

The judge didn't buy the convicted killer's argument that he was forced by his attorneys, Jim McComas and Carmen Gutierrez, to lie on the stand about the kind of weapon he used in the shootings.

Stavenjord claims he told his attorneys that he used a rifle, but they insisted he testify that it was a .22-caliber pistol.

Ballistics evidence later introduced at the trial indicated that the pistol could not have been used in the deaths.

''I have a lot of trouble with that,'' Smith said, wondering aloud what motivation the lawyers would have had for insisting on the wrong weapon. ''I do not believe they would make that kind of personal and professional miscalculation.''

McComas and Gutierrez had said Stavenjord never told them about the rifle.

McComas testified that Stavenjord repeatedly lied during the trial and that he was lying now. He compared his decision about going with the pistol as the weapon to a drunken driving case where the defendant insists he drank only a half-glass of wine even though a breath test shows he took in the equivalent of four beers.

''My job is to present his case, not change it,'' McComas said.

Stavenjord asked for a new trial shortly after being sentenced to 198 years in prison for the 1997 deaths of Carl ''Rick'' Beery, 48, and his wife, Deborah Rehor, 40. The couple disappeared on Memorial Day Weekend while visiting their cabin near Chulitna, a remote area near Talkeetna, where Stavenjord also had a cabin.

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

Stavenjord had pleaded self-defense in the case, claiming Beery opened fire after finding Stavenjord and Rehor together. Stavenjord claimed Beery shot his wife by mistake.

Stavenjord can appeal Smith's decision. He also has filed a notice to appeal his conviction.

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