By Colleen Slevin, The Associated press
A Colorado woman knew what she was doing when she stabbed her young stepson 18 times and then shot him in the head before driving across the country to dump a suitcase with his remains inside over the side of a bridge in the Florida Panhandle, a prosecutor told jurors Monday at the start of her trial.
Authorities allege Letecia Stauch killed 11-year-old Gannon Stauch in his bedroom a few hours before reporting him missing on Jan. 27, 2020, while his father was on a National Guard deployment, suggesting she was unhappy in her marriage and resentful of being treated like an unpaid babysitter. Stauch pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, with the defense claiming she suffered a “major psychotic crack,” as a result of childhood trauma, when she killed Gannon.
During opening statements in Colorado Springs, District Attorney Michael Allen pointed out the steps that Stauch took to cover up her actions as proof that she knew what she did was wrong and was therefore sane. She cleaned up blood in Gannon’s bedroom, moving it to various locations to hide it before disposing of it “like garbage” in a river that flows into the Gulf of Mexico in hopes it would never be found, he said.
Stauch also lied to investigators various times to try to hamper their investigation, Allen said, changing her accounts of what happened to Gannon. She claimed two different men had raped her and then abducted Gannon and, later, that one of those men had taken Gannon after he hurt himself in a bike crash.
“All of her actions were purposefully designed by her to distance herself from what she did,” Allen said.
But defense attorney Will Cook said the gruesome details highlighted by Allen, including how Gannon was killed and the lack of a motive, are proof that Stauch was “insane” because it all does not make sense.
“These are all signs and evidence of a mind, a soul, that is broken in a most fundamental and profound way,” he said.
Cook suggested Stauch developed dissociative identify disorder as a result of being physically, emotionally and sexually abused by her absent mother’s string of partners during her childhood, sometimes sleeping in a car in the driveway to escape the abuse. When she killed Gannon, she was not, in her mind, killing her stepson, but the “demons” from her childhood and life, he said.
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Based on surveys given to potential jurors, many were skeptical of Stauch’s mental health defense, Cook said. He urged jurors to put aside their impulse to make someone pay for such a brutal killing and keep an open mind because the judicial system requires Stauch to be presumed innocent.
“I’m not telling you to like it. I’m just telling you that’s the way it is,” he said.
Initially, authorities said they responded after Stauch said Gannon had not returned from playing with a friend. But she did not provide the names of any friends he may have been with or their parents. Within days, she concocted a variety of stories to mislead them, including that a man she hired to repair a carpet raped her and then abducted Gannon, according to investigators.
Over 200 volunteers conducted searches for the boy in the area around where the family lived near Colorado Springs, as authorities investigated. About two weeks after Gannon disappeared, searchers found a piece of particle board with Gannon’s blood on it in a rural area nearby. Presuming the boy to be dead, authorities arrested Stauch in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina on March 2, 2022. Gannon’s remains were found later that month in the small city of Pace, on the Florida Panhandle.
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Stauch was charged with first-degree murder, tampering with a deceased human body and tampering with physical evidence.
Investigators found Gannon’s blood on Stauch’s shoe, found her DNA on a gun linked to his death and learned that she traveled to the Florida Panhandle shortly after he disappeared, prosecutors have said.
Stauch was also accused of trying to escape from jail after her arrest. According to court documents, she asked a fellow inmate to help her get out, explaining that she planned to use a broom handle to break the window in her cell, and that she had already measured herself to make sure she could fit through.