Al Stauch, right, father of Gannon Stauch, walks into the El Paso County courthouse in Colorado Springs, Colo. along with supporters and family members on Wednesday, April 5, 2023. Stauch was on the witness stand for the second day in the trial of Letecia Stauch, his ex-wife, who has been charged with the murder of his son. (Jerilee Bennett/The Gazette via AP)

DENVER | The daughter of a woman accused of killing her stepson in Colorado, putting his body in a suitcase and dumping it off a bridge in Florida said Monday that she never suspected his body was in the van they drove in together across the country.

Testifying at Letecia Stauch’s murder trial in Colorado Springs, Harley Hunt said it never crossed her mind that her mother was transporting the body of 11-year-old Gannon Stauch in a suitcase in their rented van after killing him, as prosecutors allege.

“I’m still in shock. I defended her for years. I just feel manipulated and lied to,” Hunt said.

When pressed by the defense, Hunt said she never looked in the back of the van where their luggage was as they traveled through Texas and Louisiana on their way to Florida and then South Carolina in February 2020. She said she never smelled anything unusual. But Hunt also said her mother insisted on keeping the air conditioning on even when she complained of being too cold.

Prosecutors say Letecia Stauch stabbed Gannon 18 times and shot him before reporting him missing in January 2020 while her then-husband and Gannon’s father, Albert Stauch, was away at a National Guard training. While the search for the boy continued, Letecia Stauch and her daughter, who was 17 at the time, left in a rented van with a vague plan to start a new life somewhere else.

Gannon’s remains were found by bridge inspectors in March 2020, in a suitcase under a bridge on the Florida Panhandle. Prosecutors suggested that Stauch snuck out from a hotel room where she was staying with her daughter in Pensacola to dispose of his body in the middle of the night. In answer to a question from the jury, Hunt said she did not remember if their van was parked in a different spot when they went to leave the hotel the following morning.

Stauch is charged with first-degree murder, tampering with a deceased human body and tampering with physical evidence. She has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

The defense claimed she suffered a “major psychotic crack” as a result of childhood trauma when she killed Gannon. But prosecutors have been stressing during the trial that she did know right from wrong, a key element they must prove to defeat the insanity defense. They have been steadily asking witnesses like Hunt whether they thought Stauch was able to make decisions and plans.

Hunt testified that her mother booked their hotel rooms for one person, asking her daughter to sneak in on her own with their dogs so she did not have to pay for them, and that she requested a Ford Motor Company corporate discount because a relative worked for the company.

In answer to defense questions, Hunt acknowledged that she had sometimes found her mother crying in the closet while she was growing up.

Also, when Letecia Stauch was unhappily living with her then-husband and blended family in Alaska, where Albert Stauch was stationed, Hunt said her mother implied she was going to kill herself. Hunt said her mother told her to come have “your last dinner with me” and that she had already taken something to make that happen. But Hunt testified that nothing happened to her mother and they never spoke about it again.

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