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Defense's clinical health professional: 'believes Stauch was psychotic' during Gannon's killing

Posted at 9:18 AM, May 02, 2023

EL PASO COUNTY, CO — Prosecutors in the murder trial of Letecia Stauch have rested their case this morning following weeks of testimony about the stepmother's sanity, actions after her stepson was reported missing, and physical and digital evidence collected by investigators.

Judge Gregory Werner is advising Letecia Stauch of her right to testify or not testify. Josh Tolini, Stauch's attorney, said she will make her decision on whether to testify or not, after testimony later today.

The defense will call their two witnesses to the stand today, including a psychiatrist who conducted a sanity evaluation on Stauch.

The defense's first witness was Dr. Ronda Niederhauser, a clinical psychologist on Fort Carson. Dr. Niederhauser met with Stauch twice in December 2019. She testified saying Letecia Stauch came to her because of her anxiety symptoms, stress, and sleeping problems. Stauch told Dr. Niederhauser that most of her symptoms were work-related.

Dr. Niederhauser said Stauch told her that she felt like she was being harassed at work because she stood up for someone who has being harassed. The doctor also said Stauch wanted to quit her job and find another teaching job at another school district, but she wasn't allowed to quit because she was under contract.

Dr. Niederhauser said she provided a letter to Stauch to give to the school district, recommending she step down from the job. The doctor also recommended medication and therapy to Stauch.

During cross-examination, Dr. Niederhauser testified Stauch didn't appear to be suffering from a severe mental health illness, her memory and judgment was not impaired, her speech was normal, her tone was appropriate, etc.

The defense called another witness, Dr. Dorothy Lewis when the court session resumed at 1:00 p.m.

The judge told attorneys the earliest closing arguments would take place is this Friday as he wants to give counsel time to prepare.

Stauch has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. She's charged with first-degree murder and other charges for the 2020 death of Gannon Stauch. The 11-year-old was reported missing from his home in January 2020. Months later, his body was found dumped inside a suitcase along a road in Florida.

Judge Gregory Werner advised Letecia Stauch of her right to testify or not to testify. Josh Tolini, Stauch's attorney, said Stauch will make her decision on whether to testify or not after testimony later today.

Judge Werner said the earliest that closing arguments will happen is on Friday, even if the trial finishes early today. He said he wants the prosecutors and the defense to have time to prepare.

Dr. Dorothy Lewis, who conducted a sanity evaluation on Stauch, was called to the stand on Tuesday afternoon. There was about a 15-minute delay due to the witness being in transit.

Judge Werner told Dr. Lewis that she cannot testify about her 3-hour meeting with Letecia Stauch and Josh Tolini on Sunday, and cannot testify about anything she learned during that meeting.

Dr. Lewis could not testify about an alleged softball incident where Stauch said she got a concussion, because it’s not in her report that was submitted as evidence prior to the trial beginning.

Judge Werner explained to Dr. Lewis that she could only testify on the information that was in her original reports.

Dr. Lewis began her testimony about her work in juvenile courts, psychiatric wards, hospitals, maximum security prisons, and her work with dangerous people or people on death row.

Much of her work has also been working with people who have multiple personality disorder, now known as dissociative identity disorder.

After digging into Dr. Lewis' background News5's Ashley Portillo found that Dr. Lewis has examined notorious murderers like Ted Bundy, Arthur Shawcross, Mark David Chapman, and others. She has also testified as an expert witness for the defense in these high-profile criminal cases.

Dr. Lewis said she has worked with anywhere between 100 and 200 adults on death row, many of whom had multiple personality disorder or dissociative identity disorder.

“Over the years, as I was confronted with more obvious kinds of cases, and sometimes people had diagnosed something, I had become more aware of what this disorder was like," said Dr. Lewis.

Dr. Lewis said she is currently board certified in psychiatry. The defense asked to qualify her as an expert witness in psychiatry. Prosecutors then questioned her about not having a license to practice medicine in the state of Colorado.

After some questions from prosecutors, Dr. Lewis was qualified as a witness expert in psychiatry.

Dr. Lewis moved on to testifying about her 14-hour evaluation of Letecia Stauch. It took place in November 2022 at the El Paso County Jail. Josh Tolini, Stauch’s attorney, was also there during the interview.

Dr. Lewis testified saying she reviewed Letecia Stauch’s case including all the evaluations conducted by the psychologists, incarceration records, jail documents, etc.

Tolini said jurors during deliberations will be able to observe the 14-hour interview between Dr. Lewis and Stauch.

Dr. Lewis described dissociation and how it works, both minor and severe.

Dr. Lewis, “We do know what causes it. When young children are subjected to ongoing physical or sexual abuse, where it's intolerable, where you can’t cope with it anymore, the mind seems to self-hypnotize. It is as if it were not happening to you. It’s happening to someone else."

Dr. Lewis said, “It’s very common for that other aspect of that person to take on the characteristics of the abuser. This may be why it’s so astonishing.” She said some people may recognize what they're doing, while others do not. "It can cause disastrous effects."

Dr. Lewis testified about Stauch’s upbringing, including what Stauch told her and what had been reported in her medical records. Dr. Lewis said it was hard for her to keep up with the numerous males Stauch's mom was seeing, who were aggressive.

Dr. Lewis testified saying Stauch referred to her stepdad as “Jack*ss James.” Dr. Lewis said he was one of the people who sexually molested Stauch, to her knowledge. Dr. Lewis also said Stauch said she ran away from home and hid in the woods because she was terrified.

“When I was interviewing her, suddenly it seemed to me like she was speaking Russian… It looked as though as if she had switched into a different entity," said Dr. Lewis. "I do believe she thinks she was speaking some other language… That would be a coping mechanism."

“The one that I remember particularly is she referred to somebody named Maria, and Maria apparently was a physically abusive entity, and when I heard her speak, she was harsh and angry and hurtful," said Dr. Lewis. “In fact, it made me wonder when I first saw that, have I just met the aspect of her personality that killed Gannon? I don’t know. At the time, she’s the one that’s most closely alive with violence.”

Several times, Dr. Lewis said Stauch is not stupid, adding that she was a teacher. “She was an amazing woman in this way, she’s not stupid.” Dr. Lewis also said that Stauch told her about all the events leading up to Gannon’s death and the stories she told.

"There were numerous descriptions, mindless descriptions of what might have happened to this child. What puzzled me is that when you talk with her, this is not a stupid girl. She is intelligent. She is in certain states, able to reason, speak logically, and clearly," said Dr. Lewis "Yet she makes up the darnedest stories, that no person below the average intelligence would have believed. I don’t think she knows for sure what happened to Gannon.”

This is a developing story and will be updated as more information is learned. Tune in to News5 tonight to watch the latest updates of the trial at 4, 5, and 6 p.m.

Follow updates from the courtroom with News5's Ashley Portillo on Twitter. As is normal in Colorado courts, media coverage of the events will be limited. No cameras are allowed in the courtroom to cover the actual trial process. However, anyone can watch using the virtual courtroom option from the El Paso County court system.

PRIOR COVERAGE:
Stauch trial enters week five, Stauch's web searches days after Gannon's disappearance revealed
Mental health doctor testifies in Letecia Stauch trial, believes Stauch exaggerated mental health symptoms
Jurors watch videos between investigators and Letecia leading up to her arrest
Jurors listen to multiple calls from Al Stauch searching for more answers about Gannon's disappearance
Investigators testify on blood patterns and 'violent' scene in Gannon's bedroom
Jurors shown video of Letecia Stauch alleged escape attempt
Jurors see first police interview with Letecia Stauch when questioned about Gannon's disappearance
Testimony from the medical examiner on Gannon Stauch's injuries.
Gannon's father says his ex-wife was 100% sane

READ THE ARREST AFFIDAVIT FOR LETECIA STAUCH

Gannon’s disappearance

At the time of his disappearance, law enforcement began a search for Gannon based on information provided by the stepmother who claimed he had gone to a friend’s house and had not returned.

Following several weeks of law enforcement and community-led searches for the missing boy, the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office arrested Letecia Stauch in early March on charges of murder, child abuse, and crime of violence before his body was recovered.

Throughout all efforts to locate Gannon, investigators were already focused on Letecia Stauch based on her statements to law enforcement and evidence found at the family home and within her car.

During an initial interview with detectives, Letecia Stauch claimed a Hispanic male had raped her and kidnapped Gannon. According to court documents, she refused to undergo a medical examination to find evidence of a sexual assault and refused to provide any further description of an attacker. She later provided many different versions of events, which investigators detailed in the arrest affidavit.

Investigators believe Gannon was shot, stabbed, and beaten in his basement bedroom by the stepmother on January 27, 2020. A forensic search of the family home found blood stains were found on the boy’s mattress, carpet, baseboards, and electrical socket by his bed.

'My little boy is not coming home': Parents react to news of stepmother's arrest on murder charge

Gannon Stauch's stepmother charged with first-degree murder

Police say Gannon’s body was loaded into Stauch’s Volkswagen Tiguan to hide his body before she parked the car at the Colorado Springs Airport where she rented another vehicle and picked up his father after he traveled for military service.

One of the areas searched by law enforcement was a stretch of Highway 105 in Douglas County where investigators recovered a piece of bloody wood. The arrest affidavit states investigators believe Gannon’s body was originally dumped at this location using her Volkswagen, but she later returned to the area in another vehicle.

Gannon’s remains were eventually found on March 17, 2020, inside a suitcase dumped under a bridge near Pace, Florida. Investigators believe the stepmother dumped the body during a trip to South Carolina.
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