Official: For Mexicans, judgment is `extremely difficult to understand

Greg Masse
Staff Writer

Mexicans strongly disagreed with Tuesday’s court ruling that sent killer Michael Stagner to a mental hospital rather than prison.

Stagner was found innocent by reason of insanity in 9th District Court on Tuesday, and will be relegated to the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo for a one-day-to-life sentence. Despite the extremely slim chance he will ever be released, many Mexicans are finding the scenario hard to swallow.

“For some people it may be logical for the defendant to be placed in the mental facility,” said Rafael Rico, a representative of the Mexican Consulate in Denver, after Stagner’s trial to court ended. “But for Mexican nationals, it will be extremely difficult to understand. And I stress the word extremely.”

Under Colorado law, neither the prosecution nor the judge had any choice in the outcome of the case. But that didn’t seem to matter to the victims who were shot by Stagner and the still-grieving family members of the four Mexicans who were killed.

“It shouldn’t happen to anyone,” Rico said. “This man has the possibility to be back on the streets.”

The Mexican community sees the ruling as a “lack of punishment for this man,” he said.

Meanwhile, across the hall from the courtroom, 9th District Attorney Mac Myers held a question-and-answer session to try and help victims understand what happened.

“If I had the words to make you feel better, I’d say them,” he said, with his words translated into Spanish by an interpreter.

“Nobody is happy about the outcome,” he added.

He fielded questions such as, “Does this mean we can just go out and kill someone and then act like we’re crazy?”

“These doctors who looked at him believed he was suffering from a delusion,” Myers said of Stagner, grasping for the right words to explain a strange outcome to such a violent and random crime.

“I find myself feeling like this makes no sense – and it makes no sense because you can’t make sense out of this type of illness,” he said.

Mireya Toscano, the sister of the slain 19-year-old Angelica Toscano, strongly disagreed with the verdict.

“They should have punished him like he deserved,” she said through an interpreter. “They shouldn’t have found him insane.”

Although she didn’t feel he should receive the death penalty, Toscano said she would like to be assured Stagner will be locked up for life.

“I wouldn’t have condemned him to death, (but to) life in prison,” she said.

Mireya and her parents now take care of the two children Angelica left behind.

Myers said he understands the families’ frustration, and the cultural gap makes it even more difficult to explain.

“They have never been OK with this verdict,” he said. “It’s very difficult for them to accept this. They have a very tough time understanding our sanity schemes.”

During the lunch break Tuesday, before Craven issued his ruling, psychiatric expert Dr. Park Dietz explained his conclusions to the victims and families.

“Stagner was able to look normal when he wasn’t speaking about being the messenger of God and doing a holy war. He believed he was Michael the Archangel doing God’s work, which is a crazy idea,” Dietz said.

“It’s because he thought he was doing something for God that makes him insane under our law,” Dietz added.

One person said he saw Stagner at 5 p.m. on the day of the shootings, which happened close to midnight on July 3.

“He was planning and pacing around,” the man said, also through an interpreter. “It’s incredible you can tell me he didn’t know what he was doing.”

Dietz answered by saying Stagner had many normal behaviors that day.

“You are correct when you say he knew what he was doing,” Dietz said. “He knew he was killing people, but he thought he was doing the right thing for God.”

When someone asked if Stagner could be faking, Dietz said he’s sometimes the one who catches them faking.

“There have been more cases where I was able to prove the person was faking than when I found the person insane,” he said.

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