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Jury begins deliberations in Stepp murder trial

Posted September 7, 2011

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— A Wake County jury on Wednesday began deliberating the fate of a Raleigh man accused of sexually assaulting and killing his 10-month-old stepdaughter.

The six men and six women spent more than three and a half hours deciding whether Joshua Andrew Stepp tried to rape and then intentionally beat to death Cheyenne Yarley in their apartment on the evening of Nov. 8, 2009.

If convicted of first-degree murder, Stepp, 28, could face the death penalty.

Shortly after noon Wednesday, jurors sent out a note to Superior Court Judge Osmond Smith asking to see photos of the child's injuries and of the crime scene, where the state says Stepp slammed Cheyenne's face into the carpet while her mother was at work, leaving her with a "grotesque scarlet mask."

Taking the witness stand in his own defense last week, Stepp admitted to injuring the child when she would not stop crying, but he said he didn't know why he did it. He denied sexually assaulting her.

Defense attorney Terry Alford argued in closing arguments Tuesday that the Iraq war veteran is guilty of second-degree murder because he was drunk and high on prescription painkillers – Stepp's self-treatment for his then-undiagnosed case of post-traumatic stress disorder from his 2005 tour of duty.

The combination of drugs and alcohol, attorneys argued, left him mentally incapable of planning and carrying out Cheyenne's attack.

Police ignored that possibility, Alford argued, saying that they had a theory early on in the case and set out to prove it, unintentionally ignoring other evidence.

Stepp awaits verdict Stepp awaits verdict

"You know what happened," Alford told jurors. "You can feel it in your mind what happened: Here is a 10-month-old child dead with those injuries to the bottom. Boom! Conclusion: We've got a vile, vicious mean guy that tried to rape his 10-month-old stepchild. Let's go out and prove it.

"They didn't intentionally do anything wrong, but what they did is they came to a conclusion too early," he added. "They stopped investigating and started prosecuting."

But Wake County Assistant District Attorney Boz Zellinger said Stepp knew exactly what he was doing and that his cognitive abilities were not impaired that night.

"He intended to kill her," Zellinger said. "We know that because, one, she's dead, and two, he has all the capacity in the world that night to formulate and cover up what he did."

Zellinger said Stepp had to leave early from watching a football game at a sports bar to care for his stepdaughter and that he tried to rape her because he was angry.

"Rape is a crime of anger, a crime of force, power, control, and when the defendant walked into that apartment, that's what happened," Zellinger said.

There was no other reason why Cheyenne's blood was found on Stepp's underwear, he said.

Defense attorneys reminded jurors that there was no DNA evidence suggesting a sexual assault and that doctors and the medical examiner couldn't say definitively whether injuries to the child's vaginal and anal areas were caused by a penis.

They argued that Stepp injured her while changing Cheyenne's messy diapers by using a finger and wipes in an "overly aggressive way."

"These injuries came about with Josh having to change diapers in a stage where he couldn't be gentle," Alford said. "He couldn't be gentle that night. The head to the floor was harder than he meant it to be. The cleaning was harder than he meant it to be."

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  • scottvette Sep 8, 2011

    anyone that can hurt a baby should pay the price.
    hope prison is all he dreamed it would be AND much, much MORE!
    may he understand the pain this innocent baby felt, may he understand the fear she encountered. Good look Stepdad, good luck...

  • jafarmg2 Sep 8, 2011

    If I have ever known a case where an individual deserves the death penalty, it is this one! The only thing he was suffering from was evil! I pray for the mother is this little angel. I know she must be going through hell right now. She trusted her angel to a devil...and now she's gone.

  • nclissy79 Sep 8, 2011

    "He couldn't be gentle that night. The head to the floor was harder than he meant it to be."
    You mean the head to the floor REPEATEDLY for an hour?! That's not an "oops." This man did not stop until that little girl was dead. The rape is questionable but not unlikely - it would tie into the anger and need to dominate as he did her beating. However, beating this child to death is reason enough for the death penalty. What a sick, weak, insecure individual.

  • anne53ozzy Sep 7, 2011

    Everyone "deserves" to live. Clearly, given what seems to be a proliferation of these terrible incidents, there is a deeper and more serious issue to address aside from capital punishment as a solution. I am not qualified to offer a solution. Those of you who are raising children can be a new beginning, I hope. Children learn from example and then act out as adults.

  • warbirdlover Sep 7, 2011

    I have had relatives who served in wars with actual hand to hand combat, saw their buddies blown up by cannon, experienced tremendous suffering due to the weather, were tortured as prisoners, came home with their health nearly destroyed, etc. from World War II. They suffered tremendous PTSD after coming home, and the military service back then didn't even recognize PTSD or offer any mental health assistance. Yet not once did any of these relatives ever harm a baby or even kick their dog.

    You hit the nail on the head. I bet dollars to donuts my dad and his buddies seen more horrors than anybody has seen in this war period. He was on Saipan/Tinian, Iwo Jima, Okainawa. Ever heard of those places??? He was a Seabee UDT (WWII SEALS) and was stationed with Marines.

  • BobLoblaw Sep 7, 2011

    have had relatives who served in wars with actual hand to hand combat, saw their buddies blown up by cannon, experienced tremendous suffering due to the weather, were tortured as prisoners, came home with their health nearly destroyed, etc. from World War II. They suffered tremendous PTSD after coming home, and the military service back then didn't even recognize PTSD or offer any mental health assistance. Yet not once did any of these relatives ever harm a baby or even kick their dog.
    scarlett2

    Exactly right and Amen!

  • OhYeah Sep 7, 2011

    But did you read it was "his then-undiagnosed case" of PTSD? He needed a defense and all of the sudden he has PTSD? Yeah...right. Another sad thing is his own young daughter was there that night and witnessed her father murdering her step-sister. Where is she, what is becoming of her? I'm sure she will have issues the rest of her life. Poor child.

  • Bartmeister Sep 7, 2011

    He WILL NOT fare well in prison if he gets life. Shame when the prison population polices it's subjects better that society, isn't it? Once word gets out he killed a child he will be miserable. And if it gets out he sexually abused that child? They'll have to put him in protective custody forever.

  • scarlett2 Sep 7, 2011

    I have had relatives who served in wars with actual hand to hand combat, saw their buddies blown up by cannon, experienced tremendous suffering due to the weather, were tortured as prisoners, came home with their health nearly destroyed, etc. from World War II. They suffered tremendous PTSD after coming home, and the military service back then didn't even recognize PTSD or offer any mental health assistance. Yet not once did any of these relatives ever harm a baby or even kick their dog.

  • just my2cents Sep 7, 2011

    Five minutes alone with me, and I can show him what that child endured......he is an animal who does not deserve to live.

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