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State to hire a new expert in 'Red Bull defense' case

LARGO — Facing criticism from a family member, the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office has agreed to hire another expert to evaluate Stephen Coffeen, who may be found not guilty by reason of insanity of murdering his father.

The case has drawn national publicity because of a so-called Red Bull defense, but an attorney calls that issue overblown.

Coffeen, 42, who lives in California, was arrested in 2009 on a first-degree murder charge after, police said, he smothered his father in St. Petersburg. Defense attorneys hired a psychologist and two psychiatrists, who concluded Coffeen was insane at the time of the killing and unable to understand at the time his actions were wrong.

A prosecution expert reached the same conclusion, and the State Attorney's Office said it was leaning toward agreeing that Coffeen was not guilty by reason of insanity.

But Assistant State Attorney Patricia Manteiga said in court Thursday that the state would hire another expert before proceeding any further.

Lawyers say a finding of not guilty by reason of insanity is rare. It essentially requires medical experts to conclude that a person did not know right from wrong at the time of the offense. In this case, prosecutors and defense attorneys appeared to agree on the matter until Stephen Coffeen's brother, Thomas, objected.

Thomas Coffeen does not buy the argument that his brother was insane, or for that matter sleep deprived, when he killed their father. He wishes the doctors would interview him about his brother's state of mind at the time.

On Thursday, Stephen Coffeen's attorney, Peter Sartes, said hiring another doctor was an unnecessary taxpayer expense, considering that "we have four concurring opinions."

He said the process should not devolve into a "battle of the experts."

Although one doctor testifying for the defense did refer to sleep deprivation and Red Bull in the previous hearing, Sartes said Red Bull is an insignificant factor in the case. He said the experts look at all factors and use well-established medical criteria when issuing their opinions.

It may be hard to determine whether the other experts considered Red Bull a factor at all. So far, no formal evaluations have been put into the court file. When they are, Circuit Judge Nancy Moate Ley said Thursday, they will be sealed, as is standard.

Another hearing has been scheduled for March 31.

State to hire a new expert in 'Red Bull defense' case 02/17/11 [Last modified: Thursday, February 17, 2011 9:22pm]
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