CLEARWATER, Fla. - Four years after he killed his own father, Stephen Coffeen walked out of the Pinellas County Courthouse a free man thanks to a circuit judge's decision Friday morning.
Coffeen, 44, was found not guilty by reason of insanity after he smothered his father, Robert Coffeen, 83, in 2009. After spending time in a state mental hospital, followed by another institution in Tarpon Springs, Judge Nancy Moate Ley agreed that Coffeen could be set free under state law.
"Your face looks clear. Your eyes look alert. Your answers to me are appropriate," said Judge Moate Ley, who's not a medical professional. "It seems that every stage of your treatment you've done what you're supposed to do."
When Tom Coffeen heard that his brother had been released from state supervision, he was frustrated no one called to let him know about the hearing. Coffeen had attended all the prior hearings since the arrest, and was convinced the lack of communication was on purpose.
"They didn't want me there for that," said Coffeen, who's been adamantly opposed to his brother's release since the killing. "I would have said something they didn't like."
Known as the Red Bull killer, Stephen Coffeen told a psychiatrist after he killed his father that he downed several of the high caffeine drinks prior to the attack.
"He didn't just come down here and drink some Red Bull and snap and do what he did," said Coffeen. "There was something more planned."
Stephen Coffeen left the courthouse after his release and ignored questions from reporters.
His attorney, Peter Sartes, said his client is finally getting the freedom he deserves, but will always have the burden of knowing he killed his father.
"This is his life. He's going to have to deal with those things, but the law set forth specifically deals with these types of situations," Sartes said. "He is the textbook case. He is the reason why not guilty by insanity exists."
Judge Moate Ley expressed frustration during the hearing, presumably about the backlash from the public on her decision to rule Coffeen not guilty, effectively avoiding a trial.
"Because the word 'red bull' came up in the beginning, this case has been mischaracterized. It is extremely sad," the judge said. "But it needs to be understood that we are all just following the law."
Rulings of not guilty by insanity are extremely rare, and multiple doctors testified Coffeen was temporarily insane at the time he killed his father. Even prosecutors agreed that Coffeen could not be taken to trial.
Coffeen is expected to move to California, and the terms of his release only require that he check in with a mental institution there and that he keep taking his medicine. But no Florida officials will be monitoring his activity.
Coffeen's brother worried about whether there could be a future danger. Tom Coffeen remained convinced that a murderer now walks free.
"He fooled the judge, the doctors, everybody," Coffeen said. "He beat the system."