Stephanie Rochester during a hearing in Boulder District Court last November.
Stephanie Rochester during a hearing in Boulder District Court last November. (Camera file photo / Mark Leffingwell)

Stephanie Rochester, the Superior woman accused of fatally smothering her 6-month-old son Rylan, will not face a jury on first-degree murder and child abuse charges in connection with the June 2010 death.

Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett announced Monday that he does not feel prosecutors would be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Rochester was sane at the time of the killing.

Instead, Garnett and Rochester's attorneys will request a hearing in front of a Boulder judge to present evidence of Rochester's insanity to determine whether she should be found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to the state mental hospital.

That hearing, which has not yet been scheduled, will be an abbreviated trial on the murder and abuse charges before a judge, as opposed to a full trial by jury.

"Given the court's ruling and the state of the evidence at this time, I have determined that there is not sufficient admissible evidence for the prosecution to meet its burden of convincing a jury of 12 to reach a unanimous decision, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Stephanie Rochester was legally sane when she allegedly killed her infant son," Garnett said in a prepared statement. "Based on that, I have determined that it is inappropriate to proceed to a jury trial in this case."

Lloyd Rochester, Stephanie Rochester's ex-husband and Rylan's father, did not respond to a request for comment made through his attorney Monday.

Two psychiatrists -- one working for the defense team and one working for the state mental hospital in Pueblo -- both evaluated Rochester and found her to be insane.

Last December, Rochester pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to the murder and child abuse charges, and a judge recently denied a request to have a third psychiatrist, this time working for the prosecution, examine her.

Child would 'ruin' her life

During the initial investigation last summer, Rochester told detectives that she believed her baby, Rylan, was autistic, and that having an autistic child would emotionally and financially "ruin" her life.

According to a police report, she told detectives that she placed a plastic bag over Rylan's head. When the infant was still breathing some time later, she told police she placed blankets over his face.

When Rylan was unresponsive in the morning, his parents rushed him to Avista Hospital in Louisville, where he was declared dead June 1, 2010.

Since pleading not guilty by reason of insanity late last year, Rochester has spent much of her time at the state hospital in Pueblo.

Stan Garnett
Stan Garnett

On one occasion, doctors there refused to release her for a court appearance in Boulder. They said she was too unstable to travel. Rochester frequently has appeared in court wearing a suicide-prevention smock.

The district attorney's office pushed hard to have its own expert examine Rochester and to force the other two doctors to turn over past examinations so prosecutors could look at their methodology. When Boulder District Judge Thomas Mulvahill turned down those requests, prosecutors filed an emergency request asking the state Supreme Court to intervene. The court declined to hear arguments in the matter.

Garnett said his office pursued "all the mechanisms available to us under Colorado law" to get at the truth of Rochester's mental state. He made the decision not to go to a jury trial based on a "realistic analysis" of the available evidence after discussions with prosecutors and the victim's family members.

Public defender Megan Ring, who is representing Rochester, could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon.

Extremely high standard

Former Boulder prosecutor Trip DeMuth, who also has worked as a defense attorney, said the standard for criminal insanity is extremely high. Serious mental health issues alone are not sufficient; the defendant must be unable to tell right from wrong.

At the same time, prosecutors are at a distinct disadvantage without their own expert being able to examine Rochester, DeMuth said.

Any critique that expert would make of the other experts' evaluation or methodology could be countered on cross-examination by defense attorneys pointing out that the prosecution expert had never spoken with the defendant.

DeMuth said the question of whether prosecutors should get to have their own experts examine defendants is an issue that needs clarification statewide.

Garnett said his office may file an advisory appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court after Rochester's hearing. The appeal wouldn't have any effect on the Rochester case but could, if the Supreme Court chooses to hear it, clarify the rules about psychiatric experts.