Stagner seeks release from Pueblo mental health institute |

Stagner seeks release from Pueblo mental health institute

John Colson
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – Steven Michael Stagner, who has spent more than a decade in a mental hospital for the killing of four people in Rifle in 2001, is hoping a jury will sign off on his release from the institution.

Acting as his own attorney, Stagner, 53, filed a motion earlier this year for a “conditional release” hearing before a six-person jury, to determine if he is well enough to be released from the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo for further treatment and therapy outside the institution.

In court, however, he will be represented by the public defender’s office.

A hearing on Stagner’s motion is scheduled for Sept. 13 before District Judge Denise Lynch. Stagner’s motion for release has been opposed by Ninth Judicial District Attorney Martin Beeson.

Stagner, 53, has been confined at Pueblo since June 26, 2002, after he was found not guilty by reason of insanity on Oct. 8, 2002. The late District Judge T. Peter Craven also found that Stagner had committed the acts of which he was accused.

The insanity finding came after a three-hour hearing that included testimony by California psychiatrist and criminologist Dr. Park Dietz.

Dietz is nationally known for his testimony in numerous high-profile case, such as those against John Hinkley Jr., Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Kaczynski, also known as The Unabomber.

Dietz concurred with other psychiatrists that Stagner was delusional at the time of the shooting rampage, and did not know right from wrong.

The Rifle native, who has been diagnosed as bipolar with “schizoid traits” by a committee of mental health specialists, killed four people and wounded three others in a shooting spree at Rifle’s City Market shopping center. The incident took place only minutes after midnight on July 4, 2001.

He was charged with 19 counts, including eight counts of first-degree murder and three counts of attempted murder.

On Jan. 22, 2002, Stagner pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

Dr. David S. Johnson, a psychiatrist appointed by the court, found that although Stagner was capable of participating in trial, he “was so diseased or defective in the mind at the time of the commission of the alleged acts as to be incapable from distinguishing right from wrong with respect to these acts.”

Following Craven’s ruling that Stagner was not guilty by reason of insanity, Stagner was relegated to a guarded section of the state mental hospital.

As part of his request for a hearing, Stagner has asked that he be allowed to appear in court wearing street clothes, rather than a prison jumpsuit, and that he not be handcuffed or shackled during the hearing.

According to court documents, Stagner fears the jury might be negatively influenced if he appears in prison garb with shackles and cuffs.

He will be traveling under supervision arranged by the Pueblo hospital, and staying in the Garfield County Jail the night before his court appearance, although he is not technically in “custody” because of the insanity ruling.

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