Stepahnie Rochester baby-smothering case on hold because psych evaluation hasn't happened

In June 2010, Stephanie Rochester was charged with smothering her infant son, Ryan, allegedly because she feared he might be autistic.

More than a year later, the case remains stuck in limbo for a startling reason -- she still hasn't been formally evaluated by a state psychiatrist.

Why not? As first reported by the Boulder Daily Camera, there's a backlog at the Colorado Institute of Mental Health in Pueblo. But wouldn't Rochester, a current resident of the Boulder County Jail who pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity in the case, naturally leap to the front of the line? Not necessarily, according to Liz McDonough, spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Human Services.

"When a judge orders an in-patient evaluation, there has to be a bed open at the Mental Health Institute in Pueblo," she notes. "About 65 percent of our evaluations can be done at county jails. That's what we do as much as we can. But when a judge orders an in-patient evaluation, we have to do it in Pueblo. And there are competing orders, so we get to the most emergent cases as quickly as we can."

By "emergent cases," McDonough means those in which an inmate is determined to be most dangerous to himself or others. "We're in close contact with the county jails," she emphasizes. "We determine when there are circumstances the jail has difficulty dealing with, and those are the ones we try to get in as quickly as possible."

This doesn't mean Rochester has been without mental-health care for a year, McDonough emphasizes -- just that the court-ordered evaluation has not yet taken place. As for when it will be, she says "I wouldn't want to speculate on how soon we might be able to do it. But we want folks to understand we're doing everything we can to move things along." And while "staffing and resources are always factors, in this case, it's simply that we can't get people in as quickly as we would like to."

More from our Comment of the Day archive: "Reader: Stephanie Rochester's autism fears are understandable even though she did wrong thing."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts