A judge on Friday granted a defense motion for a competency evaluation for Letecia Stauch, the woman charged in the slaying of her 11-year-old stepson, Gannon Stauch, raising the prospect of a lengthy delay prosecuting the case.
Fourth Judicial District Judge Gregory Werner issued the order at a hearing at which prosecutors announced that a prosecution expert had obtained a portion of remains found last March in Florida and concluded that the remains are those of the boy.
“It is Gannon,” lead prosecutor Michael Allen told the court. Further study was expected on a molar obtained by the prosecution.
A Florida medical examiner handling the autopsy has also tentatively identified the remains as Gannon’s. But the autopsy is not yet complete, Allen said.
The judge’s competency ruling essentially halts the case against Letecia Stauch, 36, until the judge determines whether she is mentally fit to be tried. She is charged with first-degree murder and other counts in Gannon’s killing.
The evaluation will be conducted at the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo. The judge said it was likely to take about 90 days to complete, but Allen acknowledged the timeline could be wrinkled by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Werner scheduled a Sept. 8 hearing to receive the state’s competency report.
Prosecutors said in court that if state experts conclude Stauch is incompetent, they will exercise their right under Colorado law to request a second evaluation, resulting in further delays. Any dispute among experts as to Stauch’s mental fitness would be resolved by the judge at a hearing. If Werner finds her incompetent, the charges would remain in abeyance while state psychiatrists provide care meant to restore her mental fitness.
If Stauch is ruled incompetent, she can be held for indefinite treatment — up to the rest of her life — under the first-degree murder charge.
Wearing a standard orange jail jumpsuit with her hands cuffed behind her back, Stauch spoke just once to acknowledge that she had been advised by her attorneys about the effect of their competency challenge, answering, “Yes, your honor.” She sat with her head tilted downward, letting her long dark hair hide her face from the gallery.
The ruling came at a status hearing meant to determine the next steps in the case against her.
During the brief proceedings, prosecutors also filed a new charge against Stauch, solicitation to commit escape, a felony alleging that she offered to pay a fellow inmate up to $75,000 to help her escape from the El Paso County jail.
In the gallery for Friday’s hearing was Al Stauch, Gannon’s father, who was away from home on a military assignment when his son was reported missing by Leticia Stauch on Jan. 27. He filed for divorce after his wife became a suspect. Gannon's mother, Landen Hiott, and aunt, Victoria Birkenstock, were among three relatives who monitored the proceedings via video link, Allen said.
Remains believed to be Gannon’s were found March 18 in Santa Rosa County on the Florida panhandle, east of Pensacola, authorities said.
Investigators suspect the boy was killed with a knife or other weapon while lying on his bed in his basement bedroom, likely on the day he was reported missing, the Sheriff’s Office said in an arrest affidavit.
Authorities haven’t disclosed how they believe the remains ended up in Florida. Letecia Stauch was arrested March 2 in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
During a news conference after the hearing, Allen said he had warned Gannon’s family to expect a slow-moving prosecution, particularly in light of the competency challenge.
“Really, it’s just going to slow things down, tremendously,” he said.