Psychologist clears Skykomish murder suspect for trial

Months after he allegedly shot Brandt Stewart on a logging road, Jeremy Staeheli has been arraigned.

SEATTLE — Before he was arrested last year, a man accused of a murder near Skykomish bragged on Facebook he would use his mental health illness to dodge criminal punishment.

“I’m playing the (expletive) out of that card,” he wrote. “You know an acadamy award winning film so to say…hahahahaba.”

Months and a stay at Western State Hospital later, a psychologist gave the green light for court proceedings to move forward. Jeremy Tod Staeheli, 33, was declared mentally competent to stand trial on Thursday. He was arraigned the same day. He pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors allege Staeheli shot 34-year-old Brandt Stewart once in the head last December on an old logging road near Skykomish.

Just before sunrise on Dec. 23, a hiker reportedly found Stewart’s body, his hands still in his pockets. A single spent 9 mm shell casing was on the ground nearby. The shooter was nowhere to be found.

King County sheriff’s detectives found Staeheli a week later, at a hotel in northern California, after he shared his whereabouts on Facebook. He was arrested and charged with second-degree murder and unlawful possession of a firearm.

Staeheli claimed he shot Stewart in self-defense, according to charging papers. According to him, they had gone on a drive and stopped on a forest road to find a place to go to the bathroom. Outside the car, Staeheli reported he turned around to see Stewart holding a knife in his hand. Staeheli reported that’s when he shot him.

Staeheli told authorities he knew Stewart from high school, and that they occasionally smoked methamphetamine together.

Initially, a pyschologist determined Staeheli was mentally unable to participate in a trial, according to court papers. He had paranoid and delusional thoughts, and possibly hallucinations, according to court papers. He at first denied an interview with doctors, saying that various federal agencies, including the Secret Service, could vouch for him and allow his release from jail. He claimed he was a Navy SEAL under constant surveillance by the CIA. During a previous stint in jail, he reportedly claimed he was an FBI-trained killer.

Despite his Facebook post, a psychologist noted there were no signs he was exaggerating or feigning his symptoms. They wrote he met criteria for schizophrenia or another psychotic disorder, and possibly was affected by a traumatic brain injury from when he fell off a ladder in 2017. He also had a history of using methamphetamine, opiates and marijuana. During his stay at Western State, doctors prescribed him anti-psychotics and he appeared to gradually improve.

In June, a psychologist assessed Staeheli again and determined he could understand the charges against him and assist in his own defense. Staeheli reported he no longer believes he works for any government agencies, and the psychologist noted he had considerably fewer delusions.

A jury trial has not yet been scheduled.

Zachariah Bryan: 425-339-3431; zbryan@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @zachariahtb.

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