CANTON — Friends and family of Raymond Staats are “outraged” over John Stidham’s plea deal to involuntary manslaughter that was accepted in the Knox County Common Pleas Court on Thursday. Not only are they upset that Stidham will only serve four years for shooting, asphyxiating and shoving Staats in a septic tank, they are wounded by the fact that no one contacted them regarding Thursday’s court proceedings to allow them their opportunity to address Stidham.
“I don’t care how bad of a criminal you are — you are still a human being,” said Raymond’s brother Norman Staats from his home in Canton. “This should have been a murder case. … Twelve people in [Knox] County would have convicted him for murder.”
Norman told the News he is not happy with the situation, from the plea agreement to the lack of communication from the prosecutor’s office.
“What the hell is involuntary about shooting someone three times, putting a bag over his head and throwing him down a septic tank,” Norman said. “It’s like they said, ‘You killed Staats — thank you — now you get out of jail.’”
Raymond’s brothers, Norman and Gary Staats, have been watching the court docket daily to see any updates that would alert them to court dates related to Raymond’s death, particularly watching Stidham’s most recent case which was scheduled for trial in August. They had hoped when something was scheduled, they would have heard from Knox County Prosecutor John Thatcher. Instead, they were alerted by a Mount Vernon News Facebook update.
“Not one individual was called,” Gary said. “It’s really crazy to find out that way — to find out on Facebook.”
A plea to involuntary manslaughter was the last deal Gary expected to see. In fact, he said he was looking for a murder charge with death penalty specifications.
“This was brutal,” Gary said. “Shooting is one thing. But to paralyze someone, then stick a bag over their head and stick him down a [expletive] hole. That’s just brutal.”
Gary defended his brother’s actions in response to Stidham’s claim of self defense stating Raymond “might have pulled a gun but he would have never shot anyone.”
Both Norman and Gary believe Raymond’s extensive criminal history played a role in the plea deal and the family’s absence from the courtroom.
“The way it was handled has everyone blown away,” Gary said. “There is no kind of closure here. They rushed him through the court system with no warning. They knew what they wanted and they got it. This is just brutal — all of it.”
Raymond’s longtime friend Dayna Legg told the News she is “disgusted” and “shocked” at the involuntary manslaughter plea.
“This is far from manslaughter,” Legg said. “He willingly admitted to what he did. Why wasn’t he charged with murder? I’m highly offended. Raymond had a criminal history but he was still a human being. Now the court’s just saying it’s OK because he’s off the street.”
Legg feels heartbroken over the loss of her friend, someone she said she kept hoping she would hear from over the past 2 1/2 years. To add to her pain, she no longer has the opportunity to face Staats’ killer and tell him how his actions have affected her life.
“We are all waiting to put this behind us,” Legg said. “But we didn’t get the chance to say anything.”
For the Staats family, and friends like Legg, Thursday’s plea agreement, coupled with not knowing all the details of the case, there are more questions now than there were when Raymond’s body was identified on Tuesday. They all told the News they expect to contact Thatcher today and question why they were not informed of the plea deal and why they were not notified so they could have had their day in court. For now, they will continue to plan Raymond’s funeral while trying to understand how it all happened.
A candlelight vigil is planned for Saturday near Raymond’s home. Specific date and time for a memorial service have yet to be decided.
Calls to the Knox County Prosecutor’s Office this morning seeking comments on the Staats’ family allegations that they were not contacted were not returned at press time.