The mother of a Colorado man who shot seven people, killing four, in a 2001 rampage says her son should remain locked up at the state mental hospital for the rest of his life. The Denver Post says it’s already too late for that. Three years ago, Steven Stagner began leaving the guarded grounds of the Colorado Mental Health Institute to go on camping trips and community excursions, much like grade-school field trips, accompanied only by unarmed staff members, over the objections of Garfield County prosecutors. The spree killer could, in a few years, be living in a neighborhood somewhere in Colorado. A Post review found that three-fifths of 41 killers determined “not guilty by reason of insanity” over 25 years have been moved from the hospital into halfway houses and homes, some as soon as three years after their commitments. An insanity acquittal means killers are not responsible for their acts. They are held until they no longer suffer an abnormal mental condition that is likely to make them dangerous to themselves or others.
Unlike in the prison system, the time patients spend at the state hospital has little to do with the crimes they commit. In some cases, those accused of relatively minor crimes spend more years locked up at the hospital than those who commit multiple murders. Under the model of care practiced in Colorado, forensic patients accused of misdemeanors could be held longer than those who killed, according to hospital superintendent Ron Hale. He said some people who commit relatively minor offenses are sicker than those who do more violent acts. Every patient is treated with an individual plan that takes into account a complicated set of factors, including helping them deal with their own history of abuse. “Risk is a really big factor,” Hale said. “We take the concept of community safety very seriously.”