Traverse City Record-Eagle

September 24, 2013

Stapleton case: Accused mother's words to police detailed

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

---- — BEULAH — An Elberta woman accused of trying to kill her autistic daughter told authorities that years of frustration with the child’s behavior and condition led her to believe the best solution was if they both “went to heaven,” according to newly obtained court records.

A court transcript documents the statements authorities say Kelli Stapleton, 45, made to state police and medical personnel shortly after she and her daughter Issy, 14, were found unconscious inside a van in rural Benzie County on Sept. 3. Both were treated for carbon monoxide poisoning and Issy may have suffered permanent brain damage.

Stapleton’s attorney, Brian Johnson, said he’s reviewing all evidence in the case, including “unsolicited” comments to a state trooper that Stapleton intended to take her own life and her daughter’s life. The comments were detailed in a transcript of a Sept. 4 warrant authorization hearing obtained by the Record-Eagle on Monday.

“Yes we’re looking at that,” he said. “We’re looking at all aspects of this case and evaluating just about everything out there.”

Johnson expects a preliminary examination on an attempted murder charge in 85th District Court, scheduled for Thursday at 2 p.m., to be delayed until after a requested medical competency hearing.

“We’re asking for a determination to see if she’s competent to stand trial,” Johnson said.

The competency hearing is scheduled for Oct. 10 at 10 a.m.

Johnson said Monday he hadn’t yet spoke to Stapleton about a divorce complaint her husband Matt Stapleton has filed. Matt Stapleton, who is prinicipal of Frankfort High School, requests full legal and physical custody of the couple’s three children. The couple married 17 years ago.

Matt Stapleton’s attorney, John Grogan, declined to comment.

The court transcript obtained by the newspaper states Michigan State Police Det. Sgt. Rick Sekely testified Kelli Stapleton said she lured Issy into the vehicle with a promise they were going camping and would cook s’mores.

Kelli Stapleton then drugged Issy using a larger-than-normal dose of her autism medication, the document states. Once Issy was asleep, Kelli Stapleton lit two charcoal grills inside the enclosed van and even left the vehicle to get more charcoal.

“And the second time, she realized she probably should just bring the charcoal into the vehicle so she wouldn’t have to keep getting out, which is probably why mom is in a little better shape than Isabelle is right now,” Sekely told the court. “Because the doors were open periodically, (that) may be the only reason that either one of them are alive.”

Sekely said Kelli Stapleton told medical personnel at Munson Medical Center she “intended to kill her daughter and commit suicide and it was basically because of all of the years of frustration with their daughter’s autism and her behavior.

“Apparently, the daughter suffers from some violent tendencies related to the autism and has assaulted the mother in the past ...” Sekely said. “ ... (Stapleton was) kind of at her wit’s end and thought this would be the best solution for the family, her husband and her other two kids at home, was that if Issy and her went to heaven.”

Kelli Stapleton chronicled the challenges of raising Issy in a blog called “The Status Woe.” A message dated Monday from the “Friends of Kelli Stapleton” asks for prayers, letters and donations to Stapleton’s legal defense fund.

“Kelli has touched the lives of many people through sharing her experience, but today she needs our help,” the post states. “Most of you have heard of the recent events surrounding Kelli and her daughter which have lead to her incarceration. As the Friends of Kelli Stapleton, we believe she deserves a chance to share her story with the justice system represented by the proper legal (counsel).”

Kelli Stapleton’s attorneys also filed a motion to permit her to appear in “civilian clothing and without restraints” at future court proceedings. Kelli Stapleton wore a green “suicide gown,” a tear-resistant article of clothing that cannot easily be ripped or tied into knots, when she appeared in court last week.

Johnson said Stapleton was taken off suicide watch last week and is now part of the general population at Benzie County jail. He said a court appearance in normal clothing is part of the constitutionally-protected right to a fair trial. A hearing on the clothing is scheduled for Thursday at 9:30 a.m.