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Death penalty case delayed for south Huntsville man accused in double murder

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Stephen Marc Stone will not be going to trial for capital murder on March 6 as currently scheduled, but a new date has not been set yet.

Stone is facing a possible death sentence after being charged with strangling his wife, Krista Stone, and their 7-year-old son Zachary.  Both were killed in the family’s home on Chicamauga Trail in February 2013.

Stone was in court Friday as Madison County Circuit Judge Donna Pate addressed a number of issues that need to be resolved before a trial can take place.

She ordered a new mental competency exam for Stone, heard arguments on whether the case should be tossed on the grounds that Alabama’s death penalty is unconstitutional and heard an update on an investigation of new evidence the prosecution is reviewing.

Stone’s attorneys Brian Clark and Larry Marsili notified the court in January that an expert had previously found Stone to be incompetent to stand trial, but that finding occurred shortly after his arrest. It is ultimately up to a judge or jury in Alabama to determine if a defendant is competent – able to understand the proceedings against him and assist with his defense.

The defense had asked Pate to order a new mental examination for Stone in order to determine if he is now competent to stand trial. The court granted that motion today, which means he will be examined and a report will be generated, but it will take an unknown period of time.

Pate also heard brief arguments on a defense motion that asks her to dismiss the capital murder indictment. The motion is based on a U.S. Supreme Court decision from 2016 which found Florida’s system – which is similar to Alabama’s – unconstitutional.

But the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals ruled in December Alabama's system is constitutional based on some differences from Florida's. Madison County District Attorney Rob Broussard pointed to that ruling in arguing that the current system is lawful.

Judge Pate didn’t rule on the motion Friday, but said she would issue an order addressing it.

The expected delay for the trial could mean the argument is moot, because the Alabama Legislature is addressing the issue in the 2017 session. Alabama in the only state in the country that allows judges, not juries, to have the final say on whether a defendant gets life in prison or the death penalty.

There are two bills in the Legislature that would change the system and require the jury, not the judge to have the final say on sentencing in death penalty cases.

Broussard also said the DA’s office is also working on a report for the defense concerning an examination of an iPad apparently used by Stone. The iPad was picked up at the scene of the killings, but was not examined until recently. Broussard said it contained pornography and other materials prosecutors expect to present as evidence at Stone’s trial. He said it will take about a month to complete the review of the iPad and today gave the defense a preliminary report on what they’ve found.

The defense has notified the court that they will use an insanity defense for Stone – that he was so mentally impaired at the time of the killings that he didn’t understand right from wrong – and prosecutors indicated today the materials on the iPad may be used to rebut the mental health defense.

The judge also agreed to a defense request to order Crestwood Medical Center to provide requested personnel records for Stone. Both Stone and his wife had worked at Crestwood.