HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — A Madison County judge has ruled that a man charged with killing his wife and 7-year-old son in south Huntsville in 2014 is competent to stand trial in a case where he could face the death penalty.
Madison County Circuit Judge Donna Pate ruled that Stephen Marc Stone’s mental competency to stand trial has been restored after undergoing treatment.
Last May, Pate ruled Stone was not competent to stand trial. She ordered him to the Taylor Hardin Secure Medical Facility in Tuscaloosa for treatment, aimed at making him competent.
This week’s ruling clears the way for Stone’s capital murder trial to begin on Jan. 28, 2019.
Stone is facing a possible death sentence on the charges he strangled 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.
The couple’s two daughters were also at home at the time of the killings, police said, but they were unharmed. The morning following the killings, police say Stone drove his daughters to his parents’ home in Leeds, then turned himself into police.
The defense is expected to argue an insanity defense in the case. Under Alabama law the defense has the obligation in an insanity defense to convince a jury that the defendant’s mental disease or defect was so severe at the time of the killings that he didn’t understand the nature or quality of his actions. Basically, that the defendant couldn’t tell right from wrong at the time of the crime.
The judge also ruled that she reserved the right to exercise her “judicial override” power for possible sentencing in the case. The defense, citing changes to Alabama law, wanted the court to agree not to overrule the jury’s sentencing recommendation.
Alabama was among the last states to end the practice in death penalty cases of allowing a judge to overrule the jury’s sentencing recommendation of either life in prison without parole, or the death penalty.
Prosecutors have argued that cases that began before Alabama changed the law ending the practice in 2017, are still subject to judicial override.
But Judge Pate’s order said she found no legal bar to using the override in the case.