Judge considers letting killer take outings

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — A defense attorney on Wednesday expressed confidence that Steven Michael Stagner can safely make supervised public outings from a mental hospital, while a prosecutor countered that the risk involving a man who killed four people is just too great.

“I have no doubt that Mr. Stagner will be successful,” Tina Fang, head of the state public defender’s Glenwood Springs office, told 9th Judicial District Court Judge Denise Lynch.

But Andrea Bryan, a 9th Judicial District deputy district attorney, questioned allowing even a small chance of letting Stagner endanger the public.

“Is this a risk that this court is willing to take, even if it’s 1 percent?” Bryan said.

Attorneys gave closing arguments Wednesday regarding a request by the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo to let Stagner make supervised outings. Stagner was committed to the hospital a decade ago after being found not guilty by reason of insanity in the 2001 shootings in Rifle of seven Latinos, four of whom died.

Lynch said she will consider the request and issue a written order later.

Doctors recently testified that Stagner’s condition has been stabilized by medication over the years and he has been a model patient who follows the hospital rules and would pose little risk to the public on supervised outings. They say allowing him to go out in public, such as for hikes or to go to movies, is needed to help him make further progress through exposure to real-life situations, and to avoid hopelessness that could cause his condition to backslide.

Fang pointed to the fact that Stagner has never escaped from the hospital despite being allowed to walk the unsecured grounds for about six years while unsupervised.

“And so it’s sort of odd to be asking for these (off-grounds) privileges that are actually going to increase his supervision,” she said.

But Bryan noted that the staff monitoring Stagner’s outings would be unarmed and don’t have law enforcement training.

She also questioned the idea of letting Stagner go to a movie, “especially with what happened in Aurora not too long ago,” a reference to the recent deadly shooting spree at a theater there.

She expressed concern that while doctors called public safety paramount, their testimony seemed entirely focused on “Mr. Stagner and making sure that he does well.”

Bryan also voiced concern that Stagner’s ultimate goal is to be reintegrated into society, noting that he had filed his own court motion asking for his complete release before his defense team filed the hospital’s request.

“So we know what Mr. Stagner wants. He wants out,” she said.


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