Stephen Arthur Deflaun sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the murder of two victims at Morro Strand State Campground in 2001
Author: District Attorney
7/10/2023 3:58:36 PM
Today, San Luis Obispo County Superior Court Judge Jacquelyn H. Duffy sentenced Stephen Arthur Deflaun to serve life in prison without the possibility of parole for the shooting deaths of 37-year-old Stephen Donahue Wells and 11-year-old Jerry Rios, Jr. and assault with a firearm on California State Park Ranger Charles “Chuck” Jackson in July 2001.
District Attorney Dan Dow announced today Stephen Arthur Deflaun (DOB 01/24/1959) was sentenced to 50 years to life without the possibility of parole plus 16 years for the first-degree murders of Stephen Donahue Wells and Jerry Rios Jr. and assault with a firearm on California State Park Ranger Charles Jackson which occurred in July 2001.
On April 19, 2023, a San Luis Obispo County jury found Deflaun guilty 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. The verdicts came after a three-week trial during which the jury heard from over a dozen witnesses.
On April 28, 2023, San Luis Obispo County Superior Court Judge Jacquelyn H. Duffy found that Deflaun was legally sane when he shot to death Stephen Donahue Wells and Jerry Rios, Jr. and assaulted Ranger Jackson.
The crimes occurred during the late afternoon of July 8, 2001, at Morro Bay State Park Campground. Stephen Wells was driving a large recreational vehicle (RV) with his wife Betsy and four children, on their first leg of a multi-state vacation. The campground was nearly full and there were no unoccupied campsites of sufficient size 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, Jerry Rios, Jr. and B.W., both 11 years old, contacted Deflaun and asked if he intended to stay the night. Deflaun threated to physically assault the boys which resulted in Stephen Wells intervening. The two men argued and Stephen Wells told Deflaun he was going to report the threat and Deflaun’s intoxication to the ranger. The Wells group left in their RV and drove to the park entrance kiosk, where Stephen Wells requested a park ranger respond to the incident. Minutes later Deflaun walked to the kiosk and shot Stephen Wells three times and Jerry Rios, Jr. once. Several seconds later, Deflaun returned to the two shooting victims as they lay on the ground and shot each once more, completing their execution. California State Park Ranger Chuck Jackson responded and was greeted by Deflaun pointing his gun at the ranger. A confrontation ensued and Ranger Jackson subdued Deflaun by shooting him with his shotgun.
It is rare for a criminal case to take two decades to reach a resolution. Several months after his July 8, 2001 arrest Deflaun was declared incompetent to stand trial. Twenty years later, in December of 2021 Deflaun was found to have been restored to competence and the criminal prosecution was reinstated.
In June of 2022 Deflaun entered pleas of “not guilty” and “not guilty by reason of insanity.” This required the District Attorney to first prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Deflaun committed the crimes charged. Once the jury returned verdicts of guilt, Deflaun’s defense team had the burden to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that Deflaun either (1) did not appreciate the nature and quality of his acts or (2) was unable to distinguish right from wrong when he shot the victims and assaulted the ranger. On April 28, 2023, Judge Jacquelyn H. Duffy ruled the defense did not meet that burden and found that Deflaun was sane when he committed the crimes.
“We hope this life sentence provides some level of closure for the Wells and Rios families after two decades of uncertainty,” said Assistant District Attorney Eric Dobroth. “Our hearts are with them as they move forward from this terrible incident.”
"At long last, our community has delivered Justice for Stephen; Justice for Jerry; and Justice for Ranger Jackson," said District Attorney Dan Dow. "We are grateful to the jury, all those who investigated and testified, and our prosecution team who performed with excellence."
A copy of the charging document can be found here, and a copy of the defendant’s booking photo can be found here.
The case was investigated by the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office with the assistance of the Morro Bay Police Department, District Attorney’s Bureau of Investigation, California Department of Justice, and was prosecuted by Deputy District Attorney Ben Blumenthal and Assistant District Attorney Eric J. Dobroth.
Please contact Assistant District Attorney Eric J. Dobroth at 805.781.5819 with any questions.