COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) — Accused of murdering her own 11-year-old stepson, Gannon Stauch, a Colorado Springs woman decided to take her fate into her own hands on Friday, dismissing her legal team and defending herself at trial. It’s extremely rare for someone facing murder charges to decide to represent themselves, so Friday’s hearing opened up a lot of questions. We reached out to legal expert and defense attorney, Jeremy Loew, for answers about what Letecia Stauch will face in the coming weeks.
What will Letecia Stauch be up against in trying to represent herself?
Loew: It’s a very daunting task, to imagine that she’s going to successfully defend this case. She believes that she has two smoking guns that are going to clear her from this homicide. Obviously, if those smoking guns existed, she likely would have given those to her attorneys. Apparently, either she hasn’t given them to her attorneys, or they don’t exist, the smoking guns. Obviously, this is going to be a very long process, we’re essentially starting from ground zero, she’ll have to start making her way through the 30,000 pages of police reports, I don’t think she can grasp how much that’s going to be while she’s sitting in a jail cell. It’s going to be page after page after page, and she’s literally only going to get notepad and a black ink marker. It’s not like she has an opportunity to go through and highlight different things and record notes on computers. This is just a huge undertaking, that without an attorney is a shocking, shocking decision.
Will she have any help navigating legal procedure? If she does have two pieces of evidence that will clear her name, will she have help admitting that evidence?
Loew: The judge in the court will provide her what’s called Advisory Counsel. Advisory counsel won’t provide necessarily anything on how to defend the case, but it will provide how to do the procedural issues, how to admit evidence. So, if she has questions on how to admit evidence, or what a potential objection is, she can look to her Advisory Counsel for guidance.
It will be a huge resource, but what she’ll learn quickly is that her Advisory Counsel isn’t just an attorney, that she can tell what to do because the advisory counsel’s job is to provide guidance, but not just to be the gofer or the workhorse for this pro se litigant. The other thing to keep in mind is, not only does she have to make it through the 30,000 pages of discovery, but she also then has to go back through and be able to ascertain what questions she wants to be able to ask of any witnesses through that 30,000 pages. You know, there’s tons of software out there right now for attorneys that help organize and locate witnesses throughout discovery, she’s not going to have access to that. This is just something that I can’t fathom somebody would take on with this much discovery in a case.
Will she be allowed to directly question the victim’s family and close friends on the stand?
Loew: Absolutely. So, she is going to be acting as an attorney. So every witness that the prosecution puts up on the stand, she will have an absolute right to cross-examine. She’ll also have an absolute right to present her own defense, which means she could potentially testify she chose. She could also present other witnesses, she’ll have access to an investigator who can subpoena and interview witnesses. So she has the same resources as an attorney who would be handling the case, and the same ability to do opening statements, jury selection, cross-examination, direct examination, everything that a normal attorney would.
A jury will typically only see small interactions with a defendant, they won’t always even take the stand. In this case, the jury will see more of Stauch than in most murder trials as she will likely be making opening statements and questions witnesses. How do you think this will impact the trial?
Loew: That can cut two different ways. If a jury starts feeling bad for somebody, because they look so out of place, and so overwhelmed, that could garner some jury sympathy. But, on the flip side of that, if they because they come across too confident, the judge starts getting frustrated with them, and the judge wears that frustration on his robe, then, the jury is also going to get frustrated and potentially could become somewhat vindictive towards the defendant. The other thing to keep in mind is 30,000 pages of discovery is so much that when she starts a trial, when she starts a hearing, she’s going to have boxes and boxes of just paper, and she’s going to have to try and make it through all of those 1000s and 1000s of pieces of paper, that are likely going to be completely disorganized. This isn’t a case on the prosecution side, where the prosecution isn’t taking this seriously. We have the elected District Attorney Michael Allen on the case, we have the Chief Deputy District Attorney, Martha McKinney on the case. And we have another attorney, who is also very experienced Miss Graziani. So, these are three very experienced district attorneys who are going to come out full blast, and she probably isn’t going to know what just hit her.
So, even for a trained and experienced defense attorney, this would be a challenging case?
Loew: This is a very challenging case, but there are things that defense attorneys can potentially do to make your case less challenging, by impeaching witnesses by doing proper cross-examination by asking questions that get to the answers that you’re looking for, and start poking holes in a case. But, without that training, without that experience, it’s almost like she doesn’t have a fighting shot.
On Friday, Stauch asked about waiving her Proof Evident, Presumption Great Hearing, what does that tell you?
Loew: The fact that she tried to or that she waved her Proof Evident, Presumptio Great Hearing, is just a red flag that she has no clue what she’s doing. A Proof Evident, Presumption Great hearing is [where] the district attorney’s office has to put on witnesses to show that the proof is evident, and the presumption is great that the defendant would be convicted. Now, in Colorado, there are no criminal depositions. So what this is, is a hearing that allows the defendant to cross-examine, and get impeachment information to be used later at trial. So, there’s pretty much there is no benefit to waiving the Proof Evident, Presumption Great Hearing. Potentially, she could have been entitled to bond. So, if she waived the Proof Evident, Presumption Great Hearing, it is even a bigger red flag that she is completely lost.
From a legal standpoint, why would someone try to do this? Could this be a delay tactic? Does this give her more opportunities to appeal a conviction down the road?
Loew: It’s hard to imagine why she is doing this. I would say that the main reason she’s doing this is that she’s so confident in her own abilities and herself, and that she wants that she thinks she can do this. It’s not necessarily going to cause a delay tactic. There’s no benefit to a delay tactic. She’s sitting in jail, she’s sitting in jail indefinitely, and if she loses this trial, she’ll be transferred from jail to prison for the rest of her life. There’s no benefit to a delay tactic. The Court of Appeals has made it very clear and the Supreme Court has made it very clear, you have an absolute right to defend yourself. If you defend yourself, you are waiving any ineffective assistance of counsel claims. So, her appellate issues are actually being lessened by her choice to defend herself. So, the only thing I can think of is that she’s so confident in her own abilities, that she thinks that she can do a better job than an attorney.
We know she can’t appeal based on the fact that she represented herself, but we’ve talked about how the law libraries at jails are often outdated and insufficient. Would she be able to appeal based on the fact that adequate resources weren’t available to her?
Loew: I believe that would be grounds for an appeal. Though, they will state that she had ample resources and she was advised that those are the resources she had available to her. The fact that she has to process to 30,000 pages of discovery is going to be a really big issue.
On Friday, she mentioned that she didn’t feel like she was getting enough access to evidence from jail. She pointed out that if she represented herself, she would have to get access to all of the evidence in this case. Do you think having all of the evidence at her disposal will help her case?
Loew: I’m glad you brought that up. In Colorado, an in-custody defendant does not have the right to have all of his or her discovery at their disposal. They have the right to know all of their discovery and to have all their discovery read to them, but they do not have an absolute right to have their discovery with them while they are in the jail. And, the reason for that is to actually help the in-custody defendant because so many times there are jailhouse snitches, and those jailhouse snitches can get access to that discovery, call the District Attorney’s office and say, ‘Hey, defendant A just confessed to this homicide. This is all that they told me about the case,’ and garner a better deal for themselves. That defendant may not have actually had a conversation with the jailhouse snitch, but the jailhouse snitch was able to get the information from the police reports. So, there’s a real benefit to not having your discovery while you’re incarcerated. You don’t have privacy, you’re in a jail.