Traverse City Record-Eagle

September 6, 2013

Suicide concerns for jailed Benzie woman

BY MATT TROUTMAN
mtroutman@record-eagle.com

— BEULAH — An Elberta woman accused of trying to kill her daughter in a failed murder-suicide attempt is separated from other inmates in Benzie County’s jail because of concerns she’d harm herself.

Jail Administrator Sgt. Jeff Conquest would not state whether Kelli Stapleton, 45, is on suicide watch, but said she was in a segregation cell used for inmates that is visible at all times from the facility’s control room.

He said she could be moved into a general population cell pending results of medical and psychiatric evaluations.

“We’ve had some done already,” Conquest said. “We’re waiting for clearance from people that are experts.”

Stapleton faces a felony count of attempted murder after authorities said she tried to kill herself and her autistic daughter Issy, 14, on Tuesday by lighting two portable charcoal grills inside a sealed van parked off St. Pierre Road in Blaine Township. Both suffered carbon monoxide poisoning and were hospitalized in Grand Rapids.

Issy Stapleton remains in critical care at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. She initially did not respond to stimulus when a medically induced coma was lifted, but Michigan State Police Lt. Kip Belcher said her status changed somewhat Friday.

“She was responsive to some degree, physically responsive (but) not conscious yet,” Belcher said. “She hasn’t opened her eyes, hasn’t said anything or done anything like that.”

Belcher said doctors remain concerned Issy suffered permanent brain damage.

Benzie County medical examiner Matthew Houghton said carbon monoxide is dangerous because it binds itself to blood cells easier than oxygen. He said smaller individuals could be more susceptible to carbon monoxide, but cautioned damage is determined by exposure.

“It’s how much carbon monoxide you have breathed in that causes the difficulty,” he said.

Kelli Stapleton was arrested upon her release from the hospital on Thursday. Belcher said he didn’t have information that indicates a difference in the time Kelli and Issy Stapleton spent inside the van with the burning grills, but detectives will investigate that possibility.

“What I can tell you is we’ll look at every possibility about why the mother was seemingly less affected by the carbon monoxide, whether it was indicative of a plan or a procedure she wished to accomplish,” he said. “Detectives will look at every single one of those possibilities as they proceed in the investigation.”

Belcher said detectives continue to look into Kelli Stapleton’s background, including any complaints received by or investigations conducted by state Children's Protective Services. State law and agency policy prohibit CPS from confirming, denying or commenting on cases, an agency official said, but those could become public record in court.

Benzie County Prosecutor Sara Swanson argued during Stapleton’s Thursday arraignment that Stapleton “is a danger to herself and to other people” based on allegations in the police report. She also argued Stapleton was a potential flight risk and requested 85th District Court Judge John Mead deny her bond and set up a no-contact order with her children.

Mead didn’t make a decision on the no-contact order, but denied bond “to preserve her as much as anything else today.”

“We’ll let the facts play out as they will,” he said.

Stapleton’s court-appointed attorney, Anthony Cicchelli, did not return a call for comment. Cicchelli served as Benzie County prosecutor from 1996 to 2008 and lost a 2012 election bid to Swanson.

A preliminary examination is scheduled for Sept. 16 at 11 a.m.