A man accused of shooting and killing his mother in the living room of her Casper home will seek a second psychological evaluation that could be used to support his claims that he is not guilty because of mental illness.
The outcome of the Wyoming State Hospital’s evaluation of Andrew Steplock, 27, is not fully clear. Reports associated with such evaluations are not filed publicly, and lawyers have not publicly stated the contents of the late August report. Public defender Joe Cole’s decision to seek another evaluation — which he announced last week in court filings and again Wednesday morning in Natrona County District Court — gives some indication, however, as to determinations made by medical staff.
Steplock is scheduled to stand trial Nov. 18 on four felonies, including a murder charge that carries with it the penalty of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Steplock has entered pleas of not guilty and not guilty by reason of mental illness to all four counts.
The ruling is the latest in a case that law enforcement began investigating early in the morning of Feb. 26, when police answering an alarm call south of downtown Casper found Deborah Steplock, 58, with a single gunshot wound to the head. When officers arrived, her husband was performing first aid on her. An ambulance transported her to Wyoming Medical Center while detectives began investigating.
By midday, hospital staff had declared her brain-dead. She was kept on life support until Feb. 28 to arrange the donation of her organs, which had been her living wish.
When law enforcement caught up with Steplock in Colorado fewer than 24 hours later, officers found him sleeping in his car parked outside a Loveland gas station. Local authorities took him into custody, and he told Casper police detectives that he broke into his parents’ house to steal from them, according to court documents. He told law enforcement that his mother confronted him in the living room and he shot her, according to court documents filed by prosecutors.
Authorities extradited him to Wyoming on March 20. The next day, he appeared in Natrona County Circuit Court, where a judge set his bail at $1 million. He has remained incarcerated in lieu of the seven-figure cash requirement.
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On Wednesday, Steplock sat on a courtroom bench for nearly an hour, looking straight ahead as Judge Daniel Forgey conducted arraignments and sentenced people to probation or prison. When Steplock’s case was called, Assistant District Attorney Kevin Taheri appeared in place of District Attorney Dan Itzen.
Cole told Forgey he expects he will soon get approval from the state public defender’s office to have Steplock evaluated by a Colorado doctor. The results of that evaluation should be available within two months, Cole said.
State law calls for reports of psychological evaluations like the one in Steplock’s case to offer two opinions: whether a defendant has a mental illness or deficiency, and whether at the time of the alleged crime, as a result of mental illness or deficiency, they “lacked substantial capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of law.”
A person who lacks one or both of those capacities is, under Wyoming law, considered not responsible for criminal conduct. And such a finding can be used to support pleas of not guilty by mental illness, which Steplock has entered in response to the four felonies he faces. Forgey could, on the basis of such a lack of capacity, ask jurors to determine whether Steplock was not guilty because his mental state precluded him from being responsible.
Cole said only that he would seek another evaluation and did not note the specific reason. He noted the outcome of that evaluation might prompt prosecutors to seek another evaluation of their own.
Although the precise determinations made by the state hospital are not public, earlier statements by lawyers in court make clear the report’s findings favored the prosecution’s case. In August, prosecuting and defense attorneys told Forgey that if the hospital made a determination in the opposing party’s favor, they would seek a follow-up evaluation.
Forgey on Wednesday set the trial for five days in November, despite Cole’s request that it wait until the new year.