Stagner trial to get under way |

Stagner trial to get under way

Greg Masse
Staff Writer

Today marks the beginning of the end of Michael Stagner’s court odyssey, as the accused killer’s trial to the court commences.

The trial to the court, which will be held in lieu of a jury trial, is a public way to let psychiatrists explain to the public why each of them found him insane.

Ninth District Attorney Mac Myers said he expects two psychiatrists to testify during the two-day trial, which begins at 9 a.m. today at the Garfield County Courthouse. Those psychiatrists are Dr. David S. Johnson of the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo and world-renowned forensic psychiatrist Dr. Park Dietz.

“We’re going to put out a prima facie case on all the charges,” Myers said.

That means prosecutors will first prove Stagner actually killed four people on July 3, 2001.

“They’re not contesting it,” he said of Stagner’s defense. “I anticipate very little cross examination.”

Then, both the prosecution and defense must make it clear to District Judge T. Peter Craven that Stagner was, in fact, insane at the time of the shooting before Craven can make such a ruling.

Johnson is expected to testify on Monday afternoon, then Dietz is scheduled to appear on Tuesday.

Myers and deputy district attorney Gretchen Larson said they opted to hold a trial to the court simply because they had no evidence proving Stagner was sane when he committed the shootings. Thus, they had no choice but to agree with the insanity plea put forward by the defense.

In Colorado, once the issue of insanity is brought up, the burden is on the prosecution to prove the defendant’s sanity.

Myers has said family members and friends of the victims, most of whom are Spanish-speaking, also were disappointed. But he said they understood that under the law, there is no other choice.

Once Stagner officially is found innocent by reason of insanity – a ruling that is all but assured – he will be relegated to the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo for a one-day to life sentence.

As part of the public trial testimony, Myers has said he’ll focus on possible future danger from Stagner if he were to be released.

The public trial begins at 9 a.m. Monday and will be held in the Garfield County Courthouse.

On Tuesday evening after the public trial commences, the District Attorney’s Office, Rifle Police Department and the U.S. Department of Justice will be on hand at a bilingual discussion of the trial.

The discussion, hosted by the city of Rifle, is to help people understand exactly why Stagner was found insane and answer any questions about the trial from the public at large.

The discussion will run from 7 to 9:30 p.m. at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, located at the corner of 7th and Birch streets in Rifle.

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