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Judge declares 'Red Bull murder' defendant not guilty by reason of insanity

LARGO — A judge ruled Wednesday that Stephen Coffeen "did not understand the wrongfulness of his actions" when he smothered his father to death in St. Petersburg and therefore is not guilty by reason of insanity.

It was dubbed the "Red Bull defense" case because one expert mentioned in a court hearing that Stephen Coffeen, 41, suffered from sleep deprivation and had been drinking a lot of the Red Bull energy drink.

But "this case is not and never has been about Red Bull," Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Nancy Moate Ley said.

Four experts examined Coffeen's mental state and concluded, with unanimity, that he was unable to understand his actions at the time of the killing, the judge said.

Therefore, she said the law required her to accept the prosecutors' and defense attorneys' agreement that Coffeen is not guilty by reason of insanity and should be committed to a state hospital under the auspices of the state Department of Children and Families.

Assistant State Attorney Kendall Davidson has said Red Bull had no significant impact in the evaluations.

Ley will hear a report on Coffeen's mental state on Dec. 14. It's possible he could be released after that, depending on his mental evaluation.

Stephen Coffeen's brother Thomas has said he's scared of what his brother might do next — such as threatening another family member — and was disappointed in the ruling.

"He got away with murder. I don't understand it," Thomas Coffeen said.

He thinks his brother intended to kill their father, and doesn't agree that he was insane and incapable of understanding what he was doing. He still wishes the case would be tried and go to a jury.

But Stephen Coffeen's defense attorneys, George Tragos and Peter Sartes, said the decision was a just one because Stephen Coffeen snapped and was not in control of himself at the time of the killing.

"He feels remorse," Sartes said. "He's saddened by the loss of his father."

Judge declares 'Red Bull murder' defendant not guilty by reason of insanity 06/08/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 8, 2011 10:31pm]
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