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Friday, Aug 29, 2014

Man accused of smothering father in St. Pete freed

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CLEARWATER — Two years after Stephen Coffeen was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the smothering death of his father, a judge on Friday allowed him to return home to California and live as a free man, as long as he continues treatment for his mental condition.

Coffeen, 44, was charged with second-degree murder in 2009 after authorities say he suffocated his 83-year-old father, Robert Coffeen, with a pillow in St. Petersburg.

Eventually, mental health experts for both prosecutors and Coffeen’s attorneys agreed the murder case could not go forward because, in legal terms, Coffeen “could not fashion the requisite mental intent to commit” the crime, said one of his lawyers, Peter Sartes.

Pinellas Circuit Judge Nancy Moate Ley agreed and found him not guilty in 2011.

Coffeen’s gained notoriety because one of the mental health experts who examined him testified that drinking a Red Bull energy drink had contributed to his unstable frame of mind before the killing.

But there were other factors, including Coffeen’s fatigue and the stress he was suffering due to his father’s deteriorating medical condition, Sartes said.

After he was found not guilty, Coffeen spent roughly 17 months at the Florida State Hospital in Chattahoochee, Sartes said.

About a year ago, Sartes filed a motion asking that his client be moved to an outpatient treatment facility, and Ley agreed. Since then, Coffeen has been at ACTS in Tarpon Springs, where he was allowed to go outside but not leave the premises.

At a hearing Friday, Sartes argued that Coffeen should no longer be involuntarily committed, as he technically was at ACTS. Counselors at the Tarpon Springs facility, along with other mental health experts, agreed he didn’t have to be committed anymore.

Ley essentially agreed, and allowed Coffeen to move back to a house he owns outside Davis, Calif. Coffeen will still have to meet regularly with a psychiatrist, a psychologist and a forensic case manager, as he is still under court supervision, with a status check scheduled for June 20, 2014.

But he’s basically a free man, Sartes said.

“He is allowed to move freely, wherever he wants to go,” Sartes said.

sthompson@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-6504

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