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Stauch Trial Day 4: Jurors learn about suitcase Gannon’s body was found in, suspicious texts with neighbor

The suitcase Gannon's body was found in, was also brought in and shown to jurors
Posted at 9:26 AM, Apr 07, 2023

COLORADO SPRINGS — On Friday, jurors in the Letecia Stauch trial learned more about the evidence in the case, including the suitcase Gannon's body was found in, the 12-hour stay at a Florida hotel a week after her stepson disappeared, the local school she just got hired at, and suspicious text messages with her neighbor.

The murder trial of the stepmother accused of killing her 11-year-old stepson continued in El Paso County, with prosecutors getting testimony from investigators in the case and others who interacted with Letecia in the days leading up to Gannon's disappearance and after.

At the opening of Friday's court session, District Attorney Michael Allen called to the witness stand Kelly Smith, a crime scene technician for the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office in Florida. Gannon Stauch's body was found inside a suitcase under a bridge in that jurisdiction.

Smith described the scene where the suitcase was found and the condition of Gannon's body at the time, including the discovery of a bullet in the victim's head and two more in a pillow. Allen had the green suitcase, still sealed in an evidence bag, shown to the jury.

The next witness called was Trevor Seifort, a senior laboratory crime analyst from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. He explained the process of evidence collection from Gannon's body to confirm his identity, but the agency couldn’t do so because the body was decomposing.

The court also heard from a hotel employee in Florida who was on duty when Letecia checked into a room in February 2020.

Alexis Pack described documentation from the hotel and a form that was filled out by Letecia Stauch. Stauch checked in just after midnight on February 4, and checked out the same day around 11 a.m.

The next witness called to the stand was Lt. Jason Hess with the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office. Hess said he was part of the investigation early on when Gannon was reported missing. On January 28, he had a phone conversation with Letecia, who told him Gannon had not returned home and she didn’t have any new information.

Hess described responding to more than 30 calls throughout his career about a runway or missing child. He said emotional reactions can vary, but in similar situations to Gannon's, when a young boy is missing overnight, the parent's emotions are more visible and present.111

Hess was asked by the prosecution if Letecia appeared to be suffering from any mental illnesses, and Hess said “no.” He added that she would answer his questions logically, and understand what questions he was asking her.

The defense began their cross-examination of Hess and asked him how many people he’s met who suffer from a dissociative identity disorder. He said he doesn’t believe he’s met any. That was the end of his testimony.

The next witness was Leslie Hicks, who was the assistant principal at Mountain Ridge Middle School in early 2020. She said Letecia Stauch applied for a position to be a resource officer at the school, working closely with students who had learning disabilities.

Hicks testified saying she went through the interview process with Letecia to get hired at the school. This was around January 17, just 10 days before Gannon was reported missing. Letecia's first day at the school was Friday, January 24.

Hicks said Letecia did not appear to be going through a mental health crisis on Friday, January 24, and didn’t refer to herself by any other names. The two exchanged a few text messages about Letecia's first day.

On Monday morning January 27th around 3 a.m. and just after 4:30 a.m., Letecia sent a text message to Hicks which read, “I’m sorry for the time of night message, but my stepfather passed away… Someone hit him with a car while he was walking. I can update you at a later time”.

Hicks told the prosecution she responded by saying sorry, and asked Letecia if the school would need a substitute to fill in for her that day. Letecia responded, “Yes, it’s my parent. I can’t believe that would not be an assumption in a time like this”.

Hicks said again, she was sorry, and couldn’t make assumptions. She described Letecia's tone through the text messages as "angry." She had no other contact with Letecia after that.

This ended the testimony of Leslie Hicks.

The next witness called to the stand was Kevin Clark, who currently works for the 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office. He was with the Colorado Springs Police Department in early 2020.

Clark testified that the number that Letecia put down as a reference when she was applying for the job at the school, was the number for Gannon’s phone, and not Connie Huddle, which Letecia had indicated.

The next witness was Sergeant Patrol Supervisor Christopher Ganstine with the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office. In January 2020, he was a detective sergeant. On January 30, Sergeant Ganstine said he was asked to start a surveillance operation on Letecia Stauch to follow her and see what she was doing.

Ganstine said, “It was weird, because there were only two people in the car, and she (Letecia) was sitting in the back seat. She was slouched down… She wasn’t sitting like a normal person would sit. She wasn’t sitting in the front seat either.”

Ganstine said, that behavior is common when they’re following fugitives, “avoiding detection would be a good term”. Ganstine said the car drove to a clothing store off of Woodmen and Academy in Colorado Springs. He said he had his team inside and outside of the store waiting to make contact with Letecia and Harley, her daughter who was driving the car.

Letecia walked out of the store, and Ganstine said, “She was surprised. She kind of froze,” when she saw them. He said Letecia began walking backward and then sprinted away and threw the keys across the parking lot.

Ganstine said they accomplished what they were supposed to do, which was to obtain the cell phone and the car they had warrants for. Ganstine was asked if he noticed Letecia suffering a mental health crisis or disease, to which he said, “no”.

Ganstine was then cross-examined by the defense, and was asked if he was qualified as an expert in mental health or diseases, to which he said, “no”.

This ended the testimony of Christopher Ganstine.

The next witness called to the stand is Dr. Leon Kelly, the El Paso County coroner, and chief medical examiner.

Dr. Kelly spoke about when he became involved in the criminal investigation of Gannon Stauch’s murder. He said the medical examiner’s office in Florida wasn’t able to definitively identify Gannon, so Dr. Kelly's office helped and was able to positively identify Gannon.

This ended the testimony of Dr. Leon Kelley.

The next witness is Marissa Williams, who was a detective with the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office in early 2020. She spoke about when Letecia came in for an interview with the Sheriff’s Office.

Williams said, “She (Letecia) was evasive with questions, she was, I would say upset, but not in the same way that you would expect when a parent is missing a child”.

She also said that it appeared, “Mrs. Stauch was bothered that she had to come in and talk with law enforcement, and was more concerned about her well being, than her missing son".

Williams added, “I think she (Letecia) answered questions competently, she understood the questions that were being asked. There was no indication she did not understand the questions… I think she fully understood the gravity of the situation”.

This ended the testimony of Marissa Williams.

The next witness called to the stand was Janine Sanchez. In January 2020, she was living in the Lorrison Ranch neighborhood. Sanchez also worked with Harley Hunt, Letecia Stauch’s daughter.

Sanchez said she and Harley picked up Letecia from the hospital on Wednesday, January 29. Sanchez said Letecia got in the car, “just jokingly, she (Letecia) was joking about saying basically, ‘hope you don’t think we’re a bunch of murderers.’”

Sanchez said that Letecia started using Harley’s phone, then Letecia sent a text to her from the back seat, asking if she could stay at Sanchez’s home. Sanchez said she found this weird and strange because all three of them were in the car together.

Sanchez said, “Harley was just wanting to stay at my house because she didn’t really feel comfortable at her own house. I'm not sure why her mom wanted to stay at my house. With the texting thing, that was kind of odd. So I just let them both stay."

The last witness of the day was Nicole Mobley, a resident who lives in the Lorrison Ranch neighborhood where the Stauch home was. She said she first met Letecia in December a few months prior to Gannon’s disappearance. She said when she found out Gannon was missing, she wanted to help.

Mobley’s testimony was mostly about a series of text messages between her and Letecia Stauch almost a month after Gannon’s disappearance. Letecia asked for help finding a witness to advocate for herself, and say they saw someone leaving the Stauch home with a suitcase on the night Gannon disappeared. One text message from Letecia read, “I need a witness.”

Stauch also shared the story that someone broke into the Stauch home, assaulted her and took Gannon on the night of January 27.

Mobley added, “I hoped he was just missing, but from the very first night, I had a bad feeling.”

The trial will resume on Monday morning at 9 a.m. as more witnesses take the stand to testify. We’re expected to learn more about Gannon’s autopsy from Florida.

Follow updates from the courtroom with News5's Ashley Portillo on Twitter.As is normal in Colorado courts, media coverage of the events will be limited. As of right now, no cameras will be allowed in the courtroom to cover the actual trial process. However, anyone can watch using the virtual courtroom option from the El Paso County court system.

Letecia Stauch is accused of brutally murdering her stepson and dumping his body in Florida. She has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

Earlier this week, Al Stauch, the father of Gannon, was the first witness to be called to the stand to testify. He described Letecia as manipulative and also spoke about the moment that he began questioning Letecia’s involvement in his son’s disappearance. The court has heard a series of FBI-recorded phone calls between Letecia and Al Stauch in which she provides several different versions of events surrounding Gannon's disappearance.

READ MORE:

READ THE ARREST AFFIDAVIT FOR LETECIA STAUCH

Gannon's father says his ex-wife was 100% sane
Prosecutors challenge insanity claim during opening statements in Letecia Stauch's murder trial

Gannon’s disappearance

At the time of his disappearance, law enforcement began a search for Gannon based on information provided by the stepmother who claimed he had gone to a friend’s house and had not returned.

Following several weeks of law enforcement and community-led searches for the missing boy, the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office arrested Letecia Stauch in early March on charges of murder, child abuse, and crime of violence before his body was recovered.

Throughout all efforts to locate Gannon, investigators were already focused on Letecia Stauch based on her statements to law enforcement and evidence found at the family home and within her car.

During an initial interview with detectives, Letecia Stauch claimed a Hispanic male had raped her and kidnapped Gannon. According to court documents, she refused to undergo a medical examination to find evidence of a sexual assault and refused to provide any further description of an attacker. She later provided many different versions of events, which investigators detailed in the arrest affidavit.

Investigators believe Gannon was shot, stabbed, and beaten in his basement bedroom by the stepmother on January 27, 2020. A forensic search of the family home found blood stains were found on the boy’s mattress, carpet, baseboards, and electrical socket by his bed.

'My little boy is not coming home': Parents react to news of stepmother's arrest on murder charge

Gannon Stauch's stepmother charged with first-degree murder

Police say Gannon’s body was loaded into Stauch’s Volkswagen Tiguan to hide his body before she parked the car at the Colorado Springs Airport where she rented another vehicle and picked up his father after he traveled for military service.

One of the areas searched by law enforcement was a stretch of Highway 105 in Douglas County where investigators recovered a piece of bloody wood. The arrest affidavit states investigators believe Gannon’s body was originally dumped at this location using her Volkswagen, but she later returned to the area in another vehicle.

Gannon’s remains were eventually found on March 17, 2020, inside a suitcase dumped under a bridge near Pace, Florida. Investigators believe the stepmother dumped the body during a trip to South Carolina.

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