Traverse City Record-Eagle

September 17, 2013

New attorneys for Benzie County mother accused of attempted murder

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — BEULAH — Attorneys from a Traverse City-based law firm will represent an Elberta woman who’s accused of trying to kill herself and her autistic teenage daughter.

Brian Johnson and Heidi Hodek, of Dingeman, Dancer & Christopherson, replaced Kelli Stapleton’s court-appointed attorney Anthony Cicchelli during a brief court appearance Monday.

Stapleton, 45, faces an attempted murder charge after authorities said she tried to commit suicide and kill her daughter, Issy Stapleton, 14, by igniting two charcoal grills inside an enclosed van.

Both were found unconscious inside the van early this month. Issy, who suffered carbon monoxide poisoning, lingered unresponsive in that state for days inside the critical care unit at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids. Her condition has since improved notably.

Kelli Stapleton appeared before 85th District Court Judge John Mead and a packed courtroom on Monday, her wrists and ankles shackled. She wore an orange prison suit and a green suicide gown, an article of clothing made of tear-resistant material that cannot easily be ripped or tied into knots, Benzie County Sheriff Ted Schendel said.

Stapleton was in court for a preliminary examination, but Mead approved a request by the new defense team to adjourn the examination for up to 14 days. Hodek told the judge defense attorneys had not yet reviewed the case file.

Johnson called the case “complex” and declined to comment on what specifically he and Hodek plan to do next.

“We are going to take some time and determine what the next steps are,” he said.

Benzie County Prosecutor Sara Swanson said there was no new date scheduled for the preliminary examination as of Monday afternoon.

“We’ll be ready for the prelim whatever date they set it at,” she said.

Members of Kelli Stapleton’s family declined comment outside the court Monday morning.

Kelli Stapleton and her husband Matt Stapleton are prominent members of the Frankfort-Elberta community. Kelli served on Elberta’s planning council and Matt is principal, athletic director and a coach for multiple sports at Frankfort High School, and a member of the Elberta Village Council.

Matt Stapleton could not be reached for comment, but last week he said Issy’s condition had greatly improved from a “coma-like” state to talking, walking, making requests and showing glimmers of her old personality.

Kelli Stapleton is being held in Benzie County’s jail without bond.