Local News

NC Appeals Court orders new murder trial for Raleigh stepdad

Posted January 21
Updated January 22

— The North Carolina Court of Appeals on Tuesday ruled that a Raleigh man convicted of sexually assaulting and killing his 10-month-old stepdaughter should get a new trial.

Joshua Andrew Stepp, 30, was sentenced on Sept. 13, 2011, to life in prison after he was convicted of first-degree murder and first-degree sexual offense in the November 2009 beating death of Cheyenne Yarley, who had been left in his care while her mother was at work.

Stepp, who is serving a life sentence at Central Prison in Raleigh, was found guilty under what's called the felony murder rule, meaning the jury found that the child's death happened in conjunction with another felony crime, which prosecutors contended was the sexual offense.

But Stepp's defense attorneys argued that injuries to the girl's anal and vaginal areas were the result of Stepp being rough with her as he changed her diaper and cleaned her several times the night of her death.

In a 2-1 ruling, the three-judge appellate panel found Superior Court Judge Osmond Smith improperly instructed jurors regarding the defense's claim to the sexual offense charge.

Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said Tuesday that he was disappointed by the opinion and said that because it was a split ruling, the case is automatically appealed to the North Carolina Supreme Court.

Prosecutors, who unsuccessfully sought the death penalty, said Stepp attempted to rape Cheyenne, beat her to death and then lied to her mother, emergency responders and police about what happened.

Testifying on his own behalf, Stepp admitted to killing Cheyenne, although he said he didn't know why he did it, but denied the sexual offense charge.

An Iraq War veteran, Stepp suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and alcohol dependency and had been drinking heavily the day of Cheyenne's death.

The defense, which had sought a second-degree murder conviction, argued that affected his impulse control and decision-making and that, on the night of Cheyenne’s death, he had trouble coping with the child's constant crying.

8 Comments

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  • Lightfoot3 Jan 23, 2:30 p.m.

    "Testifying on his own behalf, Stepp admitted to killing Cheyenne, although he said he didn't know why he did it, but denied the sexual offense charge." - article


    Really? This CONFESSED murderer of a TEN MONTH OLD is getting a new trial because of some technicality regarding instructions? And how in the world could he not have been sentenced to the death the first time?!!! The waste of oxygen, food, water, and tax payer money is infuriating.

  • In Decisive Jan 22, 12:38 p.m.

    The appellate court sure seems intent on overturning convictions and wasting tax payer dollars. This guy admitted to the killing and the jury was unanimous in their vote for first degree murder. They could have given this guy the death penalty but spared him. He belongs behind bars for life.

  • GOPtakersSociety Jan 21, 4:18 p.m.

    hey Stymie. he already did
    "Stepp, who testified on his own behalf, admitted to killing Cheyenne, although he said he didn't know why he did. He has denied the accusations of sexual assault.

    Defense attorneys argued that his actions amounted to second-degree murder, because he was using prescription painkillers and alcohol to treat undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from his tour of duty in Iraq, where he saw members of his platoon killed by a roadside bomb."
    that's why they have the other stories listed under "More on this"

  • dwr1964 Jan 21, 4:01 p.m.

    Actually, the appellate judges found the Superior Court Judge erred by improperly instructing the jury. Lawyers didn't make the mistake.....jurydoc

    UMMM...The judge is a lawyer.

  • jurydoc Jan 21, 3:03 p.m.

    If lawyers are so smart, Why is it everything they do has to be done several times over, or are... View More

    — Posted by wayneboyd

    Actually, the appellate judges found the Superior Court Judge erred by improperly instructing the jury. Lawyers didn't make the mistake.

  • wayneboyd Jan 21, 2:41 p.m.

    If lawyers are so smart, Why is it everything they do has to be done several times over, or are they smart enough that they know and collude with one another so they can repetedly get paid for the same job.
    I'll wager taxpayers are footing the bills for all of this.

  • stymieindurham Jan 21, 2:26 p.m.

    Gotta find something to blame it on rather than taking responsibility for his actions.

  • Wake1 Jan 21, 1:57 p.m.

    Even if he didn't sexually assault - he should spend the rest of his life in prison for murdering an innocent child!