EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. (KOAA) — Prosecutors in the murder trial of Letecia Stauch rested their case Tuesday 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 advised Stauch of her right to testify and her attorney, Josh Tolini, said she will make her decision on whether to testify or not after testimony later today.
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 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 were not impaired, her speech was normal, her tone was appropriate, etc.
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 Tuesday.
Judge Werner said the earliest that closing arguments will happen is on Friday, even if the trial finishes early Tuesday. 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.
Judge Werner told Dr. Lewis that she could not testify about her 3-hour meeting with Letecia Stauch and Josh Tolini on Sunday, and could not testify about anything she learned during that meeting.
Dr. Lewis was also told she could not testify about an alleged softball incident where Stauch said she got a concussion, because it was 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 disorders, now known as dissociative identity disorder.
After digging into Dr. Lewis’ background, KOAA’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 forensic 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 story was originally published by KOAA in Colorado Springs, an E.W. Scripps Company.