Traverse City Record-Eagle

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May 6, 2014

UPDATE: Stapleton requests another criminal responsibility evaluation

BEULAH — Attorneys for an Elberta woman who's accused of trying to kill her autistic daughter plan to hire an independent expert to conduct another study that could be a key step in an insanity defense.

Kelli Rai Stapleton, 46, appeared today in 19th Circuit Court for the first time in months, after state experts turned in a long-awaited criminal responsibility examination. In January she pleaded not guilty to attempted murder.

The initial request by Stapleton attorneys Heidi Hodek and Brian Johnson for a criminal responsibility exam — a vital step in the groundwork for an insanity defense — stalled court proceedings until the results came back in April.

Hodek today told Judge James Batzer she intends to hire an independent expert for another criminal responsibility evaluation. She said the second take on the report could have a bearing on whether they pursue an insanity defense.

"That will depend on the outcome of the evaluation," she said.

The non-public report delves into Stapleton's state of mind around Sept. 3, when she's accused of trying to kill herself and her daughter Issy, 14, by igniting two charcoal grills inside an enclosed van off a Benzie County backroad.

Kelli and Issy Stapleton both were hospitalized for carbon monoxide poisoning. Kelli quickly recovered, but Issy lingered in a coma for days and awoke with permanent brain damage. Her recovery continues at home with her father.

Kelli Stapleton remains in Benzie County's jail on a $1.5 million bond.

Both Hodek and Benzie County Prosecutor Sara Swanson declined to comment on the criminal responsibility evaluation results.

Swanson said Hodek's request didn't surprise her, considering that defendants have the right to call independent experts.

"It's what I'd expect them to do," Swanson said.

Stapleton family members and spectators packed seats in the small courtroom. Batzer kicked off the five-minute hearing by saying he wanted to set a trial date.

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