Daniel Stetzel, Sentenced for Killing Mom Over Cigarettes, Wasn't High Risk? | Westword

Daniel Stetzel, Sentenced for Killing Mom Over Cigarettes, Wasn't High Risk?

In August 2014, we told you about the arrest of Daniel Stetzel, who was accused of stabbing his mom, Kathleen Stetzel, with a screwdriver and then strangling her following an argument over cigarettes. Days later came a new revelation: Stetzel had escaped from a halfway house before the murder, but authorities...
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In August 2014, we told you about the arrest of Daniel Stetzel, who was accused of stabbing his mom, Kathleen Stetzel, with a screwdriver and then strangling her following an argument over cigarettes.

Days later came a new revelation: Stetzel had escaped from a halfway house before the murder, but authorities didn't start looking for him until the day after Kathleen died.

The Colorado Department of Corrections subsequently released a statement, on view below, maintaining that a search for Stetzel hadn't been launched because he wasn't viewed as a high-risk offender.

However, his subsequent actions, which resulted in his sentencing yesterday to four decades in prison, proved this conclusion to be very, very wrong.

As we've reported, Daniel is said to suffer from schizophrenia. He's also been arrested more than a dozen times over the years, with charges against him including robbery and resisting arrest.

Among Daniel's past victims was Kathleen. An arrest affidavit accessed by KCCO-TV notes that he punched her in the face circa 2008, earning himself a five-year jail sentence.

According to 7News, Stetzel eventually wound up in a halfway house — but on June 26, his parole officer was notified that he'd escaped. The following day, a warrant was issued in his name, but nothing appears to have been done in an effort to track him down prior to July 10, when the parole officer put in a call to his emergency contact: Kathleen. And it wasn't until July 23 that the fugitive unit got more actively involved.

By then, however, it was too late. Kathleen had been listed as missing the day before, July 22, with Stetzel immediately identified as the chief suspect. He was at large for several days, but on July 28, he was arrested by members of the Grand Junction Police Department near a boat ramp at Blue Heron, a section of the Colorado River Trail. Here's a look at the area courtesy of the website GJHikes.com.

At the time of his arrest, a GJPD release says officers found "drug paraphernalia with residue in it in a bag in Stenzel's possession." He initially provided a fake name, but later offered up his real one, at which point he was busted on suspicion of possing a controlled substance and drug paraphernalia, criminal impersonation, a parole violation and, perhaps most notably, being a fugitive from a warrant from another jurisdiction.

Meanwhile, Kathleen's body was located in the desert about four miles from the family home, in an area where the family had enjoyed target shooting.

For several weeks, Daniel remained mum regarding his mother's death. But in late August, he agreed to speak — and reportedly admitted to attacking Kathleen after spatting over a cigarette.

"She went a little too far," the affidavit quotes Daniel as saying — and "out of reflex, I attacked."

In response, he went on, Kathleen "freaking slapped me in the face, like hard." At that point, he said, he reached for a nearby screwdriver and stabbed her" — and when she attempted to defend herself by choking him, he did so again.

The stabbings didn't kill Kathleen. Indeed, she was still able to speak, reportedly telling Daniel that she was going to call the police.

Upon hearing this statement, Daniel apparently acknowledged losing control: "It all flashed back to me.... You know, when she did this in 2008.... I don't know, I just, I just...I grabbed the sheet — you know, there was a sheet on the couch — I just grabbed it and freaking...just wrapped it around her neck and strangled her, I guess. Basically, uh, choked her to death."

Afterward, Daniel loaded his mother's body into his car, drove to the desert, said a prayer over the body and split. He later returned home, but after family members asked him about the sheet, he "got nervous and ran into a corn field" before vanishing, the affidavit states.

This horror might have been prevented had authorities made a greater effort to find Stetzel earlier. The failure to do so recalls the case of Evan Ebel, a prisoner mistakenly released early — and he took advantage of his freedom by murdering Nathan Leon, a pizza delivery man, and Tom Clements, head of Colorado's prison system.

After these two deaths, officials pledged to work toward preventing such tragedies from taking place again. But when it came to the Stetzel case, they argued that his lethal actions couldn't have been foreseen.

Here's the Department of Corrections statement, issued in September 2014:
Offender Stetzel was a community return to custody offender. Community return to custody beds are used for non-violent offenders whose parole has been revoked. Offender Stetzel’s criminal behavior and risk level did not warrant placement on electronic monitoring and therefore, he was not on electronic monitoring. The community center notified offender Stetzel’s parole officer that the offender was believed to have escaped on June 26, 2014. Between the dates of June 26, 2014 and July 10, 2014, offender Stetzel’s parole officer completed the steps necessary for transferring offender Stetzel to the Fugitive Apprehension Unit (FAU). She completed and entered the warrant into the necessary data systems, she prepared and filed the felony escape packet, and she closed out any outstanding referrals. When those tasks were completed she transferred the offender to the FAU.

We operate a system that prioritizes the apprehension of fugitives by risk, focusing our tracking efforts on those offenders most likely to create more victims. Though this information by no means negates the severity of the offense with which offender Stetzel is currently charged, at the time he escaped, offender Stetzel had a class 6 felony drug conviction and no prior violent felony offenses. Neither Stetzel’s offense nor his background indicated a high risk for violence or victimization. The FAU had no reason to suspect that this offender would commit any violent act. The offender’s case was staffed by the FAU and he was placed on the list of fugitive offenders for apprehension.

The ten members of the FAU work to track down hundreds of offenders on abscond and escape status. To effectively manage this task, the fugitive list must be prioritized to ensure that our resources are focused on apprehending the offenders that we believe are the most dangerous and the most likely to re-offend. Since this time last year, over 900 unaccounted for fugitives have been located and/or apprehended. Today there are over 900 fewer potential victims as a result of this effort.
During Stetzel's sentencing yesterday, covered by the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, Scott Burrill, his public defender, said that his client was taking medication prescribed to him by staffers at the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo following his arrest. “Quite frankly, right now he is doing the best that I’ve seen since I met him," Burrill told the court.

Such reports didn't sway the judge to lighten his punishment, however. Stetzel was sentenced to forty years behind bars.

Look below to see a 7News report from last year about his escape from the halfway house and the delay in looking for him.

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