The 48-year-old man who punched a 71-year-old man during an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in 2012 was sentenced to eight years in state prison on Friday. Santa Barbara resident Doug Stekkinger struck the elderly victim after a quarrel over whether or not Stekkinger’s dog was allowed inside the meeting room at the Veterans Memorial Building. Despite a “well-stated” request Friday by his public defender for residential treatment rather than prison time, the judge handed down eight years, of which Stekkinger will serve at least six.
Last November, a jury found Stekkinger guilty of three felony charges — elder abuse, assault by means of force likely to cause great bodily injury, and battery of serious bodily injury — and he has remained in custody since. The elder abuse statute can apply to a victim of great bodily injury who is 65 years old or older. But because the victim, Sean McGrath, was more than 70 years old at the time of the incident, Stekkinger received a five year enhancement. (The elder abuse enhancement would have been three years had Mcgrath been 65 to 69 years old.)
On Friday, public defender Deedrea Edgar asked Judge Frank Ochoa to give mercy to Stekkinger and grant him probation with the condition that he enter a residential treatment facility, given the “unusual circumstances” of his case. Edgar said she did not intend to defend her client’s “inexcusable” action — the jury had spoken — but she did stress that the “one-punch thrown” was a “spontaneous” act of violence and that Stekkinger is mentally ill and an “untreated addict” who had no intention of getting physical at the meeting, one he attended to recover from substance abuse. She added Stekkinger has long suffered from trichotillomania — a rare obsessive compulsive condition in which the subject removes the eyebrows and eyelashes from his or her own face — which had become more severe due to his incarceration.
Two years ago, Stekkinger delivered a single blow to McGrath after McGrath told him he must take his Australian Shepherd outside of the Veterans Memorial Building on Cabrillo Boulevard. The two men, who did not know each other but had both attended AA meetings, had gotten into verbal dispute about the matter. While Stekkinger’s back was turned, McGrath put his hand on his shoulder, and Stekkinger turned around and punched him, breaking his cheek bone in three places.
Stekkinger — who’s held various jobs in construction and for MTD in the 25 years he’s lived in Santa Barbara — plead not guilty to all three felony counts and the case went to trial late last year. Edgar stated Stekkinger had been provoked. But prosecuting attorney Sandy Horowitz argued McGrath had approached Stekkinger in a “compassionate way.” He was a particularly vulnerable victim, he went on, because McGrath had no time to react to Stekkinger’s “explosive rage.” He contended Stekkinger had blurted out, “He started to choke me!” at the scene to justify his action, but there was no “offensive grab.” Further, Horowitz said witnesses testified that Stekkinger showed no remorse and left without offering to call 9-1-1. Edgar later noted a witness testified McGrath had said “Listen motherfucker” as he approached Stekkinger.
Horowitz also argued Stekkinger’s crimes against vulnerable victims had escalated in the past decade. In 2003, he was arrested for battery and received alcohol counseling and therapy. In 2007, he was convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence crime against his girlfriend. In 2008, he was convicted of felony domestic violence against another girlfriend. The basis of that conviction, Horowitz said, was that he choked the woman to the point that she lost consciousness. Stekkinger served probation but had violated it twice, Horowitz added.
Edgar acknowledged that the court may give considerable weight to Stekkinger’s prior felony conviction, but she said that incident had occurred when he was not sober. She denied that her client was a man without remorse, and said over the past several months she had gained insight into his life through his family — his two older brothers, ex-wife, and childhood friends sat teary-eyed in the courtroom on Friday — and she had visited Stekkinger in jail several times. Though he had attended counseling, Stekkinger has never been to a residential treatment facility, and regardless of the court’s decision, Edgar said, he will suffer the “handicap of a California striker” for the rest of his life.