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Twin Cities Pioneer Press
By Frederick Melo, firstname.lastname@example.org
Updated: 02/26/2010 11:08:16 PM CST
Judge’s ruling means Stephen Miles will remain in locked psychiatric facility
An Eagan man who decapitated his 68-year-old stepmother has been found both guilty and not guilty of second-degree murder and will receive further psychiatric treatment in a secure facility rather than serve time in prison.
The ruling, filed Friday by Dakota County District Judge Kathryn Messerich, is a rare example of a successful “M’Naghten defense,” or insanity plea, in Minnesota. The judge’s order states Stephen Miles suffered a “defect of reason” and, while guilty of murder, had no idea his actions were wrong when he hit Maris Jo Miles in the head with a hatchet and removed her head with a kitchen knife.
“He’s guilty, but he’s not guilty,” his attorney, Marsh Halberg, said. “He’s going to have to go through a long civil-commitment process before he can be released to show he’s not a danger to himself or others.”
Messerich’s 23-page order details the following:
On Dec. 30, 2005, Miles stepped out onto the back deck of his father’s Burnsville home and said he’d just killed his stepmother. Burnsville police found the decapitated body of Maris Jo Miles in the kitchen, her head in the bottom rack of the dishwasher, facing backward.
“It was like I was watching me do it,” Miles, then 23, told his father, according to court records.
In the squad car, asked if he understood why he was being arrested, Miles told police, “Because I voted for Fidel Castro.” He asked if he’d be shot by firing squad and wondered aloud how much of his brain was water. He also asked to stop for fast food, the records state.
Interviewed again later, he said he decapitated his stepmother because she was very sad and “I wanted her not to feel like (expletive).” He said he put her head in the dishwasher to “get her clean,” according to court records.
He later said he did not know she was dead and did not believe removing her head would kill her, and the head could be reattached with stitches.
“She might have been surprised,” he said. “I don’t think her head had ever been separated from her body before.”
Miles, who has been in treatment at the state security hospital in St. Peter, Minn., was finally found competent to stand trial on Feb. 19.
Instead of a jury proceeding, prosecutors and the defense submitted mutually agreed-upon facts to the court.
Among the findings was that Miles was diagnosed as mentally ill at age 6. He sometimes wore foil helmets to protect himself from transmitters and stayed awake late at night, fearing intruders.
By 2005, he’d become obsessed with the idea that his head was disintegrating because of electromagnetic waves sent by the government or someone hiding in his attic.
Throughout that year, his behavior spiraled downward, according to court findings.
That October, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia but refused to take anything other than Zoloft, an anti-anxiety medication.
That November, he smashed a chair and lunged at one of his biological mother’s friends with a knife hidden in his sleeve.
On Dec. 20, 2005, he told his mother, Carol Miles, that if she called police, he would attempt “suicide by cop” by telling them he had a weapon, forcing them to shoot him.
On Dec. 29, he grabbed his father around the neck when Roland Miles stopped him from using a fork to remove a dental filling.
On Dec. 30, his parents persuaded him to go to Fairview Southdale Hospital in Edina, but he refused to allow an emergency room physician to touch him. Miles went back to his mother’s van, and the physician informed his parents that, despite their concerns, he could not place Miles on an involuntary 72-hour hold because the psychiatric beds were full.
The physician, according to court findings, placed a referral call and told them to take him to Fairview hospital in Minneapolis instead, but Miles refused to go.
Later that day, at the Burnsville residence, his father went outside to clear snow and asked Miles to join him. Before long, Miles wandered away, retrieved a hatchet from the garage and killed Maris Jo Miles.
After the murder, the Minnesota Department of Health’s Office of Health Facility Complaints and the Chicago office of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid investigated to see whether Fairview Southdale followed procedures.
They determined that given Miles’ refusal to undergo a full physical exam, the hospital staff acted appropriately.
In her two-part ruling, Messerich found that Miles was indeed guilty of second-degree murder, but also not guilty as a result of “laboring under such a defect of reason as to not know the nature of his acts constituting the offense to which he was charged.”
Halberg said Miles’ parents were relieved by the ruling but described Miles himself as still skeptical.
“Through the parents, I’m understanding he’s having a hard time believing it’s finally done,” Halberg said. “This phase of the tragedy is finally over.”
Frederick Melo can be reached at 651-228-2172.