Judge rules man was sane when he committed 2001 Morro Bay double-murder

April 29, 2023

Stephen Arthur Deflaun


A San Luis Obispo County Judge ruled on Friday that a defendant was legally sane when he shot and killed a 37-year-old man and an 11-year-old boy at Morro Strand State Campground in 2001.

Stephen Arthur Deflaun, now 64, did not stand trial until more than 20 years following the double-killing. After being convicted of two counts of murder and ruled sane at the time of the crimes, Deflaun now faces life in prison without the possibility of parole. 

On July 8, 2001, Stephen Donahue Wells, 37, was driving a large recreational vehicle with his wife and four children on their first leg of a multi-state vacation. They arrived at Morro Strand State Campground, which was nearly full and did not have an unoccupied campsite large enough for their RV.

The group came upon Deflaun, whose van was parked in a large campsite that would fit their RV. Two of the children who were part of the group, Jerry Rios, Jr. and B.W., both 11 years old, contacted Deflaun and asked if he intended to stay the night. Deflaun threatened to physically assault the boy, which resulted in Wells intervening. 

Wells and Deflaun argued. Wells told Deflaun he was going to report the threat and Deflaun’s intoxication to the park ranger. 

Then, Wells’s group left in their RV and drove to the park entrance kiosk. Wells asked for a ranger to whom he could report the incident. 

Minutes later, Deflaun walked to the kiosk and shot Wells three times and Jerry Rios, Jr. once. Seconds after that, Deflaun approached the two victims as they were lying on the ground and shot both of them once more, killing them.

When California State Parks Ranger Charles Jackson arrived at the scene, Deflaun was pointing his gun at him. A confrontation ensued, during which Jackson fired his shotgun, striking and subduing Deflaun.

Several months after Deflaun’s arrest, a judge declared him incompetent to stand trial. In Dec. 2021, a judge found Deflaun’s competence had been restored and reinstated his prosecution.

In June 2022, Deflaun entered pleas of not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity.

Earlier this month, Deflaun stood trial for three weeks. At the conclusion of the trial, the jury convicted him of two counts of first degree murder with the use of a firearm and one count of assault on a peace officer with a firearm. 

On Friday, Judge Jacquelyn Duffy ruled the defense did not prove by a preponderance of evidence that Deflaun either did not appreciate the nature and quality of his acts or was unable to distinguish right from wrong when he shot the victims and assaulted the ranger. 

Following Duffy’s ruling that Deflaun was sane when he committed the murders, SLO County District Attorney Dan Dow released a statement saying justice has finally been delivered. 

“At long last, our community has delivered Justice for Stephen; Justice for Jerry; and Justice for Ranger Jackson,” Dow said. “We are grateful to the jury, all those who investigated and testified, and our prosecution team who performed with excellence.”

Deflaun sentencing is scheduled for June 2.

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