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Insanity defense accepted in son's killing of father

Stephen Coffeen, left, listens to his brother, Thomas Coffeen, far right, tell the judge that his brother is a threat to society.

Associated Press

Stephen Coffeen, left, listens to his brother, Thomas Coffeen, far right, tell the judge that his brother is a threat to society.

LARGO — The State Attorney's Office has reaffirmed its rare decision not to prosecute a man it says killed his father in St. Petersburg, based on experts who say the man was insane at the time.

Now the matter goes to Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Nancy Moate Ley, who will review the prosecutors' decision and decide by Wednesday whether the case against Stephen Coffeen should proceed.

It's a case that briefly made national news because one expert said Coffeen suffered from sleep deprivation and drinking Red Bull energy drinks at the time of the killing.

But overall, Red Bull had little or nothing to do with the experts' evaluations that concluded Coffeen was insane, prosecutors say. The evaluations have not been made public.

Prosecutors say they are bound to follow the law, which holds that if people are insane and not able to distinguish right from wrong, they cannot have formed the criminal intention to commit a crime.

Coffeen's brother, Thomas, is grieving and scared. He believes his brother intended to kill their father, and he's worried what might happen next, especially if doctors conclude his brother has become well enough to be released. Even his 10-year-old son has expressed fear, he said.

"I'm numb," Thomas Coffeen said after a court hearing Wednesday. "I can't believe it."

His attorney, Allen P. Allweiss, told the judge Wednesday that, "we feel that the state should not be permitted to roll over on this."

Although the State Attorney's Office said it was leaning against prosecuting after four experts concluded Stephen Coffeen was insane, it delayed a decision and hired one more expert, based on the brother's criticism. The new expert reached a similar conclusion, Assistant State Attorney Kendall Davidson said.

Defense attorney George Tragos said he believes his client would be released no earlier than after a six-month period of mental evaluation. He said the prosecutors decision was just, based on the experts' opinions.

"You've got one of the toughest prosecutors in the state," he said, referring to Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe. "They do not roll over."

Stephen Coffeen was arrested in 2009 after, police say, he smothered his father, Robert, 83, a retired English professor.

Insanity defense accepted in son's killing of father 06/01/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 1, 2011 11:41pm]
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