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Graphic photos shown to jury in Yosemite killer case

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) - Faced with the picture of a corpse he beheaded, Yosemite killer Cary Stayner turned away as prosecutors showed jurors graphic photos of his fourth victim.

As prosecutor George Williamson projected images on a screen in Santa Clara Superior Court on Monday of park nature guide Joie Armstrong's disembodied head and her headless torso, some jurors stared at Stayner as he averted his glance and looked down.

FBI agent Todd Drost said he removed Armstrong's partly submerged body from a creek near her cabin in Yosemite National Park on July 22, 1999.

"Her right shoulder was out of the water," Drost said. "Her body had clothes on it, but the head was missing."

"Pardon me?" Williamson said.

"The head was missing," Drost repeated twice.

Prosecutors are to convince jurors that Armstrong's murder is one of the main reasons Stayner should die for killing three Yosemite tourists in 1999. Jurors must decide between life in prison or the death penalty.

Stayner was convicted last month of murdering Carole Sund, 42, her daughter, Juli, 15, both of Eureka and their Argentine friend Silvina Pelosso, 16, while they were staying at the rustic lodge where he worked as a handyman.

The killings went unsolved for nearly six months until Stayner struck again, killing and beheading Armstrong, 26.

Stayner, 41, is serving life in federal prison without parole for murdering Armstrong, but state prosecutors want a stiffer sentence. The Armstrong case was held in federal court because she was killed in a national park.

Prosecutors quickly moved through evidence with testimony from a friend who reported Armstrong missing to rangers who searched her cabin to investigators who recovered her remains.

Drost said Armstrong's torso was covered in grass and weeds in the creek near her cabin, where Stayner later said he tried to hide it after hacking off her head. A dog discovered the head a few hours later in water about 40 feet away.

Photos were taken of the body and head on a blue tarp after they were recovered.

Defense lawyer Michael Burt argued unsuccessfully that the photos were repetitive and only intended to shock jurors. Judge Thomas Hastings said the claim had no merit and he allowed them to be displayed.

One photo depicted Armstrong's decapitated body sprawled on its back, with her arms by her side and one leg bent, her jeans unbuttoned and her panties showing. Her shirt and bra were pulled up over one breast. Another photo showed her head, eyes closed and lips pursed.

Dr. Jerry Nelson, a pathologist, said Armstrong probably died rapidly from blood loss.

Much of the testimony focused on Stayner's light blue 1979 International Scout that was seen in the area around the time of the killing.

A park ranger said he gave Stayner a lift that night to Cedar Lodge when he came upon the broken-down truck along Highway 140.

Law enforcement spread the word about the truck and Jeff Sullivan, a special agent with the park service, stopped Stayner and questioned him. He said he thought it was odd when Stayner smiled and waved while driving in the opposite direction.

Stayner calmly denied being in the area near Armstrong's cabin, Sullivan said. He said he had been sunning at a swimming hole reading. He said he liked horror stories and books about serial killers.

Again, Stayner was allowed to leave - the second time he had been questioned by a federal agent since the Sunds and Pelosso disappeared.

But two days later his luck ran out. He was arrested July 24, 1999 after confessing to all four killings.

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