Rifle victim’s family, friends say killer should not get out
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Family and friends of a woman killed by Steven Michael Stagner 11 years ago are upset that authorities might let Stagner out of a mental hospital, even temporarily to take day trips for treatment.
Stagner, 53, has been confined in the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo since June 26, 2002, over a shooting rampage in Rifle on July 4, 2001, that left four people dead and three others wounded.
“She thinks that he could escape during those times when he goes to therapy,” said Nohemi Arredondo, of Rifle, translating from Spanish for Modesta Toscano, a 49-year-old mother and grandmother who lives in Rifle.
Toscano’s daughter, 19-year-old Angelica Toscano, was killed by Stagner. She left behind a 4-year-old daughter, Veronica Santoyo, now 15.
Arredondo, Modesta Toscano, Santoyo and another friend, Viviana Espino, spoke with the Post Independent on Wednesday about the Stagner case.
“She wants him to stay in the mental institution that he is in,” Arredondo said, interpreting Modesta Toscano’s steady, calm statements. “He can get therapy there.”
Stagner is due at the Garfield County Courthouse today for a hearing on whether he should be periodically allowed out of the mental hospital, under supervision, for therapy and rehabilitation treatments.
According to news reports at the time of the killings, shortly after midnight on July 4, 2001, Stagner strolled around the parking lot of the City Market grocery store and a nearby RV park, shooting people in both locations. All of those killed or wounded were Mexican nationals, leading to a growing feeling that the killings were racially motivated.
According to court testimony from one of those wounded, Rodolfo Beltran Perez, Stagner muttered “f—ing Mexicans” just before shooting Beltran in the shoulder, according to a story in the Post Independent.
The shootings highlighted Rifle’s ethnic divisions in some ways but also prompted efforts to improve relations. A few weeks after the murder, there was a unity parade and rally in Metro Park in Rifle in an effort to draw together the disparate ethnic groups in the city and find a way to heal divisions that erupted in the wake of the shootings.
The rift in the community persisted, however. It led to, among other things, a Sept. 19, 2002, brawl among white and Hispanic teenagers at Rifle High School, according to news accounts.
On Oct. 8, 2002, District Judge T. Peter Craven found Stagner not guilty of murder by reason of insanity, though he ruled that Stagner was guilty of the acts of which he was accused.
A resulting wave of Hispanic anger over the ruling persists to this day, fueled by the belief that Stagner committed a racially based hate crime and got away with it, according to Modesta Toscano, Santoyo and others who spoke to the Post Independent on Wednesday.
“He shouldn’t be back in society,” Arredondo said. “What is going to happen? Is he going to end up killing more people? This time, maybe he’s not going to kill just Hispanics.”
Santoyo, who wept silently during much of the interview, nodded in agreement with Arredondo’s pronouncement.
Modesta Toscano and other family and friends of Angelica Toscano plan to be at the courthouse for the hearing and are prepared to address the court if District Judge Denise Lynch gives them the opportunity, Toscano said.
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