No death penalty in Rifle shootings case | AspenTimes.com

No death penalty in Rifle shootings case

Greg Masse
Special to The Aspen Times

District Attorney Mac Myers said Thursday he will not seek the death penalty for accused killer Steven Michael Stagner.

Stagner is accused of killing four people and injuring three others in a shooting spree last July 3 in Rifle.

In a hearing in Garfield District Court, Myers said Stagner’s long history of mental illness outweighed the circumstances of the quadruple homicide.

Stagner has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

In related action, Judge T. Peter Craven said Stagner’s murder trial will begin July 29. The trial is scheduled for four weeks.

The next hearing on the case is set for May 2, when the prosecution and defense will share their time lines for filing motions. The types of motions made at that hearing remain to be seen.

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“There’ll be more to come, but Mike’s insane,” said public defender Greg Greer, Stagner’s attorney.

Stagner, 42, faces 19 charges, including eight counts of first-degree murder and three counts of attempted murder.

He was arrested by Rifle police on July 3, just minutes after allegedly shooting six men and a woman.

Killed were Angelica Toscano, 19, Juan Manuel Hernandez-Carrillo, 44, and brothers Melquiades Medrano-Velasquez, 23, and Juan Carlos Medrano-Velasquez, 22.

Medel Ortega, 24, Efred Miramontes, 17, and Rudolfo Beltran, 29, were injured.

Since his arrest, Stagner has been held without bond in the Garfield County Jail. If convicted of the murder charges, he will receive life in prison.

But Stagner’s attorneys plan to introduce evidence of his mental state to bolster the insanity plea.

“If found not guilty by reason of insanity, it’s different,” Greer said. “He’ll stay in custody. It really has to do with `Where are we going to send Mike Stagner?'”

If a jury acquits Stagner on the insanity plea, he’d be given a one-day to life sentence, Greer said.

“As a technical matter, they could come back and say, `You’re sane.’ As a practical matter on a homicide case, people stay [in a mental facility] for a long, long time,” he said.

A sanity and competency evaluation, written March 25 by Dr. David S. Johnson of the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo, also was released Thursday.

Johnson wrote that although Stagner “does indeed have a severe mental illness of psychotic proportions,” there still are “several factors going against a finding of insanity.”

Those factors include Johnson’s opinion that Stagner “did intend to shoot people on July 3, 2001.”

The report alludes to Stagner telling a Grand Junction police officer there was going to be a “turkey shoot” on the morning of July 3.

“After being interviewed concerning this evidence, Mr. Stagner himself admitted that `It’s obvious that I came to kill people,'” the report states.

The report concludes that the case for insanity rests on Stagner’s inability to clearly differentiate right from wrong.

“It is my opinion that on the night of July 3, 2001, Mr. Steven Michael Stagner was acting under strong delusional beliefs, which prevented him from being able to distinguish right from wrong with respect to his criminal acts,” the report says.

But Johnson said Stagner is competent to stand trial.

“It is my opinion that Steven Michael Stagner is not currently suffering from a mental disease or defect which renders him incapable of understanding the nature and course of the proceedings against him, or participating or assisting in his defense or cooperating with his defense counsel,” the report says.