2001 Morro Bay murder sentenced to life in prison

July 11, 2023

Stephen Arthur Deflaun


More than two decades after a double-murder at Morro Strand State Campground, a San Luis Obispo County judge on Monday sentenced the gunman to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Stephen Arthur Deflaun, now 64, shot and killed a 37-year-old man and an 11-year-old boy at the Morro Bay campground in 2001. Deflaun, who was declared incompetent later in 2001, did not stand trial until more than 20 years following the double-killing.

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 boys, 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.

This April, 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. After the jury convicted Deflaun, Judge Jacquelyn Duffy ruled Deflaun was sane when he committed the murders.

On Monday, Duffy sentenced Deflaun to 50 years to life in prison without the possibility of parole, plus 16 years

“At long last, our community has delivered Justice for Stephen; Justice for Jerry; and Justice for Ranger Jackson,” District Attorney Dan Dow said in a statement after Deflaun’s sentencing. “We are grateful to the jury, all those who investigated and testified, and our prosecution team who performed with excellence.”

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

The lesson here is “Don’t approach or talk to strangers”. Not everyone wants to be your friend or engage on any level whatsoever.

I Remember this case, Officer Jackson was a hero that day, and probably saved other lives ( including the young Kiosk attendant ) by running into danger. There was a Sheriffs Deputy nearby who failed to assist officer Jackson so he went at it alone. Thank you Officer Jackson

How close was he and under what circumstances did he justify his inaction?

I remember this story because it was two more victims in a series of murders occurring over the previous five or six years. Starting with Kirstin Smart, then Rex Allan Krebs, and then this horrendous scenario