Stagner insane, judge confirms
As expected, Steven Michael Stagner was found innocent by reason of insanity Tuesday for the July 3, 2001, shooting spree in Rifle where he killed four people and injured three others.As a result, Stagner was committed by 9th District Judge T. Peter Craven to the Colorado Department of Human Services to serve a one-day to life sentence in the state mental hospital.The insanity sentence stemmed in large part from the testimony of California psychiatrist Dr. Park Dietz, who has testified in high-profile cases for killers such as the Unabomber, Jeffrey Dahmer, Andrea Yates and the Son of Sam.Dietz offered three hours of testimony, aided by a PowerPoint presentation and videotape of a meeting between Stagner and his attorney, Greg Greer.”The Park Dietz summary of the case is as comprehensive as this court has ever seen,” Craven said, in making his final ruling. Dietz agreed with other psychiatrists that Stagner was under a delusion at the time of the shooting rampage, believing he was on a mission from God to rid the world of “wicked people.”Craven found that Stagner committed the acts he was accused of in 18 of 19 felony charges – including murder and attempted murder – but his mental state at the time of the shootings gave the court no choice but to find Stagner innocent by reason of insanity. Dietz’s testimony revealed Stagner’s long history of mental illness.Dietz said Stagner had been hospitalized 20 times during the last 20 years, and is diagnosed with three illnesses: schizophrenia, bipolar disease – which is also called manic depression – and scizoaffective disorder with psychotic features, a combination of bipolar disease and schizophrenia. “He had a long-standing delusion that he was Archangel Michael and he was on a mission to rid the world of bad or evil people,” Dietz said. That mission led him to the Rifle City Market parking lot and across Railroad Avenue to the Bookcliff RV Park – where Stagner himself once lived – and led him to shoot seven people before he was apprehended by police, Dietz said.A repeated theme of Stagner’s delusions was his desire to protect women and children from drug dealers, Dietz said, suggesting that this could be one reason he came to the trailer park. When Stagner lived there, Dietz said, it was occupied mostly by Anglos, including some drug dealers.Now, the Bookcliff RV Park is occupied almost exclusively by Mexicans and other Latino immigrants.Dietz testified that Stagner may also have had it in for immigrants because they received better government benefits than he did.But Dietz said it didn’t appear that Stagner was targeting Mexicans out of a hatred of that particular nationality. Instead, his wrath was more likely aimed at immigrants in general.History of illnessMany clues in Stagner’s past indicated he could become violent. -In 1987, he told a doctor, “I have so much rage inside me I’m afraid I’ll hurt somebody.”-In 1990, he began talking about going on a mission around the world with a gun to get rid of drug dealers. -In 1991, a psychiatrist in Craig suggested Stagner should be relegated to a mental hospital “so he doesn’t hurt himself or someone else.”-Also in 1991, Stagner stole a rifle and said he was “going up the hill to train for war.”-In 1995, Stagner was investigated by the U.S. Secret Service for making threats against President Bill Clinton while drinking in a local bar. -He also had a fairly extensive criminal history that included convictions for drug possession, drunken driving, disorderly conduct, contempt of court, burglary, criminal trespassing and assault on a police officer. “Sadly, each one of these ended with him being put back on the street and that’s why we’re here,” Craven said. Violence escalatesDuring the last two weeks of June 2001, Stagner was overheard by a bartender in a Grand Junction bar saying “he couldn’t handle people anymore,” that “he was going to snap,” and he was going to “go fishing for souls,” Dietz said. Also in late June, he told an acquaintance he was going to kill people and that God would forgive him for it.During the day of the shooting, Stagner was displaying bizarre behavior all day, Dietz said. “It’s the kind of very strange, weird behavior we’d expect from someone who is psychotic,” Dietz said. His behavior during the shootings also was typical of a psychotic person. He walked calmly and confidently as he shot people, he reloaded his gun under a streetlight with no apparent fear of being caught and “didn’t seem in a hurry,” Dietz said. It was only when police told him to drop his gun that he realized they were not on his side.”When the police first arrived, he said, `Get ’em. Get ’em all.’ He may have thought the police were on his side,” Dietz said. “Once he realized they were not on his side, he became excited, jerky, nervous and he ran.”A videotape of Stagner in an attorney-client interview with his defense attorney Greg Greer showed a prime example of a psychotic person who is delusional, Dietz said. “It would be extremely difficult for someone to fake so much psychotic behavior for so long,” Dietz said.”Also, it would be unprecedented for a person to fake these strange behaviors before the crime.”When Dietz was asked by 9th District Attorney Mac Myers if he considered himself a conservative psychiatrist, he answered that he finds only about 5 percent of his patients insane. “I believe people should be held accountable for their behavior,” he said. “I go to great lengths to determine if they were responsible and should be held accountable.” But in this case, he said he is convinced Stagner was insane at the time of the crime. “I reached the opinion that Mr. Stagner’s mental condition rendered him so diseased as to be incapable of distinguishing right from wrong in respect to that act,” he said. How long will hebe locked up?Myers said he went to great lengths to introduce an overwhelming amount of evidence into the record. It will be Stagner’s burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he’s cured of his mental illnesses before he could ever be released. Among the evidence he would have to overcome is his failure to take medicine for his mental illnesses, a history of homicidal threats, a psychotic mental illness, a history of substance abuse, inadequate social support and lying in the past to doctors when they asked him if he possessed a weapon. He would also have to convince authorities that he would not commit murder.Stagner was also given two risk-assessment tests during previous stays at the state mental hospital.One test, the Violence Risk Assessment Guide, showed that Stagner has a 58 percent chance of committing another violent crime within 10 years of being released.Results of the MacArthur Iterative Classification Tree placed Stagner in a group where 64.2 percent became violent within one year of release. “It’s my view that Mr. Stagner should be maintained permanently on medication in a lock-down facility,” Dietz said. After the trial concluded Tuesday, Myers said he hopes the record built there will be enough to deny any requests by Stagner to be released. “He would have to prove he no longer suffers from it. We have a huge amount of evidence,” Myers told Stagner’s victims and their families. “Stagner is a dangerous man. He’s been sick for 20 years and he will not get better. And please know that we will do everything we can to keep him locked up.”
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Readers around Glenwood Springs and Garfield County make the Post Independent’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.
Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.
Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.