DA Dan Dow defends the use of the death penalty in California
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San Luis Obispo killer Rex Krebs kidnapped, raped and murdered students Rachel Newhouse and Aundria Crawford in 1998 and 1999. April 23, 2019, marks 20 years since their bodies were found.
Serial killer Rex Allan Krebs was sentenced to die by lethal injection 18 years ago for kidnapping, raping and murdering two San Luis Obispo college students.
But an executive order signed by California’s new governor means the state’s harshest punishment likely won’t be carried out on Krebs or two other San Luis Obispo County residents on death row for the most horrible of crimes.
Last month, despite voters narrowly reconfirming capital punishment through two separate 2018 ballot initiatives, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that he will not carry out executions of condemned inmates as long as he’s in office, calling capital punishment “ineffective, irreversible and immoral.”
“We knew it was pretty unlikely (the execution) would be carried out, but even if it wasn’t carried out, (Gov. Gavin Newsom) took away our hope,” said the former boyfriend of Aundria Crawford, a 20-year-old Cuesta College student Krebs abducted from her apartment.
Tuesday marks the 20th anniversary of the recovery of the bodies of Crawford and 21-year-old Cal Poly student Rachel Newhouse, a grim discovery that confirmed the community’s worst fears after five months of mystery.
In the two decades since, Newhouse’s family has declined to comment publicly on her murder. Newhouse’s aunt, Stephanie Morreale of Riverside, declined to comment on behalf of the family for this article, though she did say, in response to a question on the death penalty moratorium, “I wish (Krebs) was gone.”
Fresno resident Gail Crawford, mother of Aundria Crawford, said by phone last week that she’s very disappointed in Newsom for his stay.
“He’s not following through on the wishes of the people of California,” Crawford said. “I don’t like seeing innocent people put to death, but when you have someone you know without question is guilty of something so bad, it’s just disappointing.”
Asked if she is interested in attending should Krebs be put to death, Crawford said: “If I physically could, I would.”
Aundria’s boyfriend at the time of her murder, a San Luis Obispo resident who asked to only be identified as Josh, keeps in contact with Gail Crawford, launching a $10,000 scholarship with her to benefit survivors of sexual violence who are pursuing higher education.
People involved in the effort to track down the killer and serial rapist also expressed their displeasure over the prospect Krebs could die of natural causes in San Quentin.
Larry Hobson was an investigator with the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office when he elicited the confession that sealed Krebs’ fate.
Hobson said the multi-agency task force set up to track down the killer “put a lot of work and time in” to convict Rex Krebs and to convince a jury in a second trial to sentence him to death.
“I’m sorry to see the death penalty go away, but it’s almost like there’s no death penalty anyway,” Hobson said.
David Zaragoza, Krebs’ parole agent credited with bringing him to the task force’s attention, echoed Hobson and said he would attend Krebs’ execution.
But during the death penalty phase of the trial, the defense team argued that Krebs’ life should be spared in large part because he was allegedly seriously abused by an alcoholic father. Other defense witnesses testified that Krebs underwent a mental change after being knocked unconscious and hospitalized following a bar fight three months before Newhouse’s murder.
William McLennan, an attorney who represented Krebs in the death penalty phase, declined to comment for this article, due to his recent assignment in two possible death penalty cases in San Luis Obispo County.
Patricia Ashbaugh, one of Krebs’ public defenders in the guilt phase of his trial, said Monday that because Krebs’ appeals process is still ongoing, it would be inappropriate to comment for this article.
BEHIND OUR REPORTING
Why did we report this story?
The disappearance of Rachel Newhouse and Aundria Crawford affected the entire San Luis Obispo County community and resulted in the largest law enforcement manhunt in recent county history.
Recognizing the significance of the 20th anniversary of the recovery of the students’ bodies, Tribune reporter Matt Fountain reached out to 18 people with varying degrees of proximity to the case, conducting interviews with many of them in person and by phone and email.
Fountain and senior photographer David Middlecamp also reviewed the newspaper’s entire collection of archived clips from the time.