Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 19, 2013

Elberta mother eyes book

BY MATT TROUTMAN mtroutman@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — BEULAH — An Elberta woman may write a book detailing her efforts to raise the autistic daughter authorities allege she tried to kill in a failed murder-suicide.

Kelli Stapleton, 45, remains in a Benzie County jail cell awaiting competency tests to determine if she’s mentally fit to stand trial for attempted murder. Authorities allege she tried to kill herself and her daughter Issy, 14, by igniting two charcoal grills in an enclosed van on Sept. 3.

Defense attorney Brian Johnson said Stapleton, who penned a blog called “The Status Woe” about her difficulties raising and securing help for her daughter, continues to write from jail. He’s reviewing new blog posts from Stapleton before they’re published and said a book was “absolutely” on the table, but stressed no potential writers or publishers have been identified.

“She might be,” Johnson said of Stapleton’s intent to write a book. “Not necessarily about this incident, but her life with an autistic daughter and the challenges it presents.”

The prospect of Stapleton breaking her silence drew a sharply divided reaction from friends sympathetic to her self-described “woe” and one prominent autistic advocate who said he was “flabbergasted” that a book was being considered.

“If that would be pursued (it) would be the height of inappropriateness and the ultimate example of the all-too-low regard for the value of autistic life,” said Ari Ne’eman, president of the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network. “As an autistic person, I’m profoundly concerned and offended that someone would attempt to cash in.”

Stapleton’s husband Matt Stapleton could not be reached for comment. Matt Stapleton filed for divorce after the attempted murder allegations and seeks legal and physical custody of their three children, including Issy, who suffered brain damage from carbon monoxide poisoning.

His sister Sarah Ross said the Stapleton family has no comment on the case until the investigation is complete. She said Issy continues to recover at home and is working toward getting back to a classroom setting.

“It’s a roller coaster recovery; she can get things back and lose them,” Ross said. “That’s how carbon monoxide poisoning works. Right now we’re seeing upward trends, so we’re cautiously optimistic.”

A group called Friends of Kelli Stapleton raised $16,000 for Stapleton’s legal defense fund and recently posted updates to her blog that thanked supporters. Group founders Marlowe Franklin and Vickie Slater said Kelli Stapleton is responding to letters she received from supportive parents across the country.

“She’s been very public with her story through her blog,” Franklin said. “She’s not the only one going through this.”

“The Status Woe” blog detailed Stapleton’s struggles with insurance companies and bureaucrats to secure help for her physically abusive daughter, whom she said twice sent her to hospital emergency rooms. Hours after authorities found her and Issy unconscious, she wrote that she suffered a “severe case of battle fatigue.”

“This is not something that happened overnight,” Slater said. “The journey with Issy has been very long ... You need to look at the past. I don’t think it excuses it, but helps you understand it a little better.”

Ne’eman said “all too often” the parent who committed a violent act against an autistic child is portrayed as the true victim. He said if Stapleton published a book he’d “attempt to hold the publisher accountable.”

“If you look at the stories as a trend, we’re not seeing most low-income families committing (these crimes),” he said. “If anything, the common theme is this is more likely to happen in families that absorb the message that you need to ‘cure’ a child and there’s no hope for quality of life.”

Johnson said Stapleton, who previously published a book titled “Birth Stories on Demand,” would not be writing about the alleged incident with Issy.