33 years after the murder of a young mother, a killer tells an unlikely story to the parole board
STATEN ISLAND, NY – Thirty-three years ago, the lifeless body of Rebecca Fein was found lying face down on the beach at the foot of Craig Avenue in Tottenville.
The mother of a young boy, 28, suffered a fractured skull and brain damage consistent with a blunt head injury on September 25, 1987.
The Prince’s Bay resident also suffered severe facial abrasions.
Less than a year later, a gas station attendant, Daniel Stratton, was convicted of second degree murder for killing Fein.
At a recent parole board hearing, Stratton, 53, who is serving a 25-year life sentence for Fein’s murder, claimed his death was an accident.
“I never intended to hurt her at all,” Stratton said, according to a transcript of her interview.
Stratton said Fein was injured when he accidentally hit her with a steering wheel lock device he threw in the back of a van they were driving in.
Stratton, then 20, had picked up Fein that morning and was driving her in her boyfriend’s van to the gas station to fix the vehicle.
“I caught it,” Stratton said. “I spun it around to throw it in the back of the van. I didn’t know she was reaching out at the same time. It hit her in the head. I was a strong guy back then. So when I threw it with all my might, it’s just … “
This explanation did not ring true for the board members who rejected Stratton’s latest release offer.
“It sounds like, sir, more than just one accidental hit once,” said the transcript quoting a parole commissioner. “Looks like there was – her face, she had lacerations, nose, eyes. It looked more like a beating than an accidental hit with an object.
In addition to their skepticism about Stratton’s account of the victim’s death, the panel voiced concerns about the heinousness of the crime, the accused’s criminal history, which includes a previous sexual conviction, and his disciplinary record in jail.
Stratton was also convicted while in jail for attempting to promote smuggling in prison, apparently following an incident several years ago.
Marijuana and a folding knife were found in his possession.
“Unfortunately for the victim, his family and the community at large, your previous sentence of incarceration and community supervision for attempted first degree sodomy where the victim of this offense was a 15 year old boy has failed to change. your negative behavior, ”the board wrote in its denial. “This is your second state mandate. … OI (Snapshot Offense) of second (degree) murder represents a continuation and escalation of violent behavior towards others that remains a concern for this panel.
DAY OF MURDER
The tragic events were set in motion on September 24, 1987.
Fein had met Stratton at the local gas station where he worked and arranged for him to pick up his fiance’s van the next morning to have his brakes fixed, according to testimony from a witness at Stratton’s trial.
Testimony revealed that Stratton wrote Fein’s address on a matchbook when she went to the gas station the day before to arrange repairs.
Police then found the cover of the matchbook in Stratton’s clothing.
The Advance also reported that Fein’s then 5-year-old son recounted seeing his mother leave in a van at 7:30 a.m. on September 25, 1987, with a man in a red shirt.
Other prosecution witnesses saw Stratton standing next to the van outside Fein’s house and later struggling with a woman while driving the van.
Finally, an angler testified that he was at the foot of Craig Avenue at 8:30 a.m. when he saw a man in a red shirt approaching in the direction of the van.
The defendant’s ex-girlfriend, with whom he lived in Prince’s Bay, testified that he left the house in a hurry that morning.
He was wearing a red shirt, but when he returned home four hours later, he was wearing a different shirt, the woman said.
When Fein’s body was found, she was still wearing the jeans and t-shirt she had put on that morning. His skull was crushed.
The van was found stuck in the sand about 60 feet from the victim’s body.
Later that afternoon, police came to Stratton’s home to question him, his former girlfriend said. He fled through a window, the woman said.
Stratton fled to a friend’s house on the North Shore. The man said he refused Stratton’s request to provide him with an alibi for an hour on the day of the murder, the Advance reported.
Stratton was arrested on October 1 in Queens.
He had a bus ticket to Miami when he was taken into custody. Police found human blood on his clothes.
Stratton appealed his conviction, but a state appeals court upheld it in 1992.
Stratton was also suspected, but never charged, in the death of Judith Summerville, whose severely decomposed body was found in the woods behind Tottenville High School on September 30, 1987 – five days after Fein’s murder.
During Stratton’s conviction in 1988, the judge said Fein was killed “in the most brutal, horrific and vicious manner,” according to the parole transcript.
The judge said he could not find any mitigating circumstances to justify imposing a minimum sentence.
REFUSES FACE INJURIES
Yet when asked about the victim’s extensive facial injuries during the parole hearing, Stratton denied causing them.
“If you look, she was found face down in the water at low tide,” he said. “These are just rocks… the whole thing is just rocks. That’s what caused it.
However, later in the interview, he appeared to change course, admitting that he had “a big debt” to pay to the victim’s relatives.
“I wanted to write a letter to the family, I don’t know what to say,” Stratton told the board. “I mean, what are you saying? I often sat in front of my typewriter and every time I went, “What are you saying?” I apologize?’ It doesn’t cover it, and I don’t know what to say. I tried.”
In its rejection, the board praised Stratton for improving on a number of vocational courses and programs while incarcerated.
The panel also noted that prison staff spoke positively about him.
However, these factors did not allay the fears of board members.
“After a file review, interview and deliberation, the panel determined that your release would be incompatible with the well-being and safety of society and would downgrade the seriousness of the crime to such an extent as to undermine respect for the law.” , wrote the Council.
Stratton can reapply for parole in October 2022.