Palmer jury convicts Stavenjord of murder

Posted: Monday, June 08, 1998

PALMER - Lawyers for Paul Stavenjord say they will try to overturn his conviction on two counts of first-degree murder.

A Superior Court jury found Stavenjord guilty Friday in last year's shootings of a Big Lake couple.

Palmer jurors were forced to choose between competing versions of the deaths after Stavenjord, who took the stand, admitted killing one of the victims in self-defense.

The state acknowledged it did not know why - or exactly how - Deborah Rehor and her husband, Rick Beery, died. But they called Stavenjord's explanation implausible.

Sentencing was set for September. Defense lawyers said they would appeal.

Stavenjord, known locally as a flute player and craftsman, faces up to 99 years in prison on each murder conviction. He was acquitted of two counts of theft and a count of rape. Prosecutors alleged Stavenjord sexually assaulted Rehor.

The verdict was returned one year to the day after Rehor's body was found in deep woods near Pass Creek, off the Parks Highway, which runs between Anchorage and Fairbanks. Stavenjord eluded a troopers' manhunt for a month before turning himself over to Anchorage police July 12. The trial began nearly two months ago.

Taking the stand in his own defense, Stavenjord acknowledged killing Beery - but only after Beery fired first when he found Stavenjord and Rehor engaged in sexual relations. Stavenjord claimed Beery inadvertently shot and killed his wife.

In an interview Friday with radio station KTNA, juror Henry Jackson said the panel found Stavenjord's testimony unbelievable. Jackson said the jury was troubled that Stavenjord readily answered questions from defense lawyers but was less forthcoming on cross-examination by the state.

Jackson said initial balloting after jurors received the case Wednesday was 9-3 in favor of convicting Stavenjord on the two murder counts.

That changed after the group asked to review the testimony of a state ballistics expert, who said a .22-caliber pistol Stavenjord claimed he fired at Beery did not match a bullet retrieved from the victim's body.

``There was scientific evidence that it just couldn't be done,'' Jackson said.

Ballistics evidence was less clear in Rehor's shooting since only bullet fragments were retrieved.

``The gun that killed these people is still missing,'' Jackson said. ``Something happened at Pass Creek that no one knows - I don't mean no one, someone knows.''

One juror wept Friday as verdicts were read aloud, as did Stavenjord's children, 13-year-old Josh and daughter Rebecca, a college student. Stavenjord showed no reaction.

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