A 20-year-old man who hacked an acquaintance to death with a machete at the victim’s makeshift Crockett home more than two years ago will spend 18 years in state prison, a judge in Martinez ruled today.
George Fite received the sentence after accepting a plea agreement with the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office in which he pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter with the use of a deadly weapon for the killing of 45-year-old Daniel Stackenburg in January 2012.
Fite has spent the past two years in prison, since his arrest in January 2012, according to Deputy District Attorney Simon O’Connell.
During the sentencing hearing today, the prosecutor read a letter from Stackenburg’s brother addressing the defendant. In the letter, the victim was described as a loving and beloved family member who struggled for much of his life with drug addiction and mental illness.
“Though he was challenged by these conditions, there were times when he was able to get a handle on them and function normally,” the letter read.
The victim’s brother said Stackenburg relapsed and that he hadn’t spoken to him for about 18 months when he was killed, but that he held out hope that Stackenburg would again overcome his demons.
“Tragically, you robbed us of that hope and any chance for him to realize his full potential,” he wrote.
Fite, who stood behind a courtroom partition, kept his eyes downcast throughout today’s hearing.
O’Connell said the defendant was 18 years old and had recently left foster care when he moved from Fresno to Crockett to live with his mother and stepfather.
During his stay there he met Stackenburg, a transient who lived in a wooden shack near the railroad tracks north of Post Street on a hillside inhabited by several other homeless people, the prosecutor said.
The pair had a friendly relationship, but when Stackenburg noticed one day that several items were missing from his makeshift home, he immediately suspected Fite, who was known in the community as a petty thief, according to O’Connell.
Some time around New Year’s Day 2012, the teen went to visit Stackenburg.
A neighbor later reported hearing a scuffle at Stackenburg’s camp in the middle of the night.
O’Connell said friends became worried when Stackenburg wasn’t seen for several days and reported him missing.
One day in the beginning of January, a couple of the victim’s friends went to his home, began digging around and found a corpse, the prosecutor said.
By the time his body was located, Stackenburg had been dead for at least a week, according to prosecutors.
An autopsy determined that Stackenburg died from blunt force trauma and sharp injury to the head, according to the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office.
He had been badly beaten – his head was found nearly split in two and his jaw almost completely severed, according to O’Connell.
Investigators quickly identified Fite as a person of interest in the case after learning that he had been seen at the victim’s home.
O’Connell said the teen changed his story several times, at first denying any involvement in the death. He then claimed that he only attacked in self-defense, then blacked out and awoke to find Stackenburg dead.
The prosecutor said Fite had no injuries from the altercation and there was no indication that he had been defending himself.
He was initially charged with murder and his trial was scheduled to begin later this month.
Fite’s short criminal history prior to the killing included minor charges such as possession of marijuana, according to O’Connell.