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Stepdad found guilty in infant's beating death

Posted September 8, 2011

— A Wake County jury on Thursday found Joshua Andrew Stepp guilty of first-degree murder and sex offense of a child in the beating death of his 10-month-old stepdaughter almost two years ago.

Stepp, 28, took the witness stand last week in his own defense, admitting that he beat, shook and slammed Cheyenne Yarley's face into the carpet of their Raleigh home on Nov. 8, 2009, when she wouldn't stop crying.

An autopsy found the child died from abusive head trauma.

Defense attorneys working to keep Stepp from facing a possible death penalty argued Tuesday that the Iraq war veteran used painkillers and alcohol as a way to treat post-traumatic stress disorder and that the combination of the three, along with Cheyenne's nonstop crying, led to the crime.

They said his actions amounted to second-degree murder because he was incapacitated at the time.

Prosecutors, however, argued that Stepp knew what he was doing when he also sexually assaulted Cheyenne.

Injuries to her anal and vaginal areas were consistent with sexual abuse, witnesses testified, but Stepp maintained that he never sexually assaulted his stepdaughter. Those injuries, he said, happened because he was rough with her as he changed her diaper several times that night.

"I hurt her, and I have to live with that. That's my life sentence right there," he testified. "But there's no way I could do anything sexual to any of my kids, to any kids period."

The jury deliberated for about seven hours on Wednesday and Thursday before finding him guilty under the state's first-degree felony murder rule – meaning the killing happened during the commission of another crime.

Jurors must now decide whether Stepp should be sentenced to death for the crimes or spend the rest of his life in prison without parole.

Jury reaches verdict in 10-month-old's beating death Stepdad convicted in infant's beating death

A sentencing hearing started late Thursday afternoon during which family members testified that they thought Stepp was a good father to Cheyenne and to his now-6-year-old daughter and that the crimes he was convicted of are out of character for him.

"I was completely and utterly shocked when I heard the charges," Stepp's cousin, John Chilton, said. "He doesn't fit the profile of someone who'd do what he's accused of."

Stepp successfully fought against his first wife for custody of their daughter, friends testified. Being a single father, they said, he left the Army to take care of her.

"This is not like Josh. This is not the Josh I know," Stepp's father, Frank Stepp said tearfully on the witness stand.

Frank Stepp said that his son was a sweet little boy growing up who was always happy and got along with everyone. In school, he was sometimes mischievous but in a funny way.

"This is my son, and I love him. I feel like I'm looking at my kid in the street and something's about to hit him, and I can't get to him," he said. "And now, I want to take him home, and I can't do that.

"He's got a little girl. She's been crying for her dad, 'I want my dad. I want my dad.'"

Military members Stepp served with in the Army told jurors the horrors they saw serving in Iraq. In one case, they spoke of the job of clearing bodies after a bombing. 

"Those experiences were very graphic in nature," Stepp's friend, Danny Arellano, said. 


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  • glencindy Sep 9, 2011

    that poor little girl, it literally makes me sick to think of what he did to her

  • 1 awesome Dad Sep 9, 2011

    I have grown weary of all the violent crime we are going through in our communities here lately. Maybe some good news can trickle in for a little while.

  • Kimbby Sep 9, 2011

    I vote life in prison without the posibility for parole. So that he may have to live with what he did every single day, and let him answer to the other prisoners.

  • Bartmeister Sep 9, 2011

    Hopefully the victims' family can go for a retrial and harsher sentence for their senior famnilies.

    There are no "Do Overs" after a verdict in our system. Appeals only challenge the procedurals not the evidence per say. The nursing home killer should have gotten the death penalty, but he won't and that won't change. Brad Cooper might be found not guilty if he had a different jury, but he won't get that chance.

  • Iworkforaliving Sep 9, 2011

    whatever, I beat the drum proudly, death.

  • southernbythegraceofGOD Sep 9, 2011

    so very happy to hear this , now i hope and pray they sentence him to what he deserves... DEATH

  • RMC10 Sep 9, 2011

    So the nursing home killer got a much less sentence, but with similar circumstances, and he actually premeditated and shot all those seniors. He too abused drugs, alcohol, had PTSD (well at least some traumatic stress syndrome) actually brutally killed more people - Shouldn't these two killers have gotten the same sentences? Anyone see the injustice between these two crimes. Hopefully the victims' family can go for a retrial and harsher sentence for their senior famnilies.

  • scottvette Sep 9, 2011

    i vote DEATH.

  • SueInNC Sep 9, 2011

    There's no punishment on this planet that could properly address what this animal did to that little girl. I hope he rots in hell.

  • kellypratz Sep 9, 2011

    I have the greatest respect for all the women & men of our military but to use this as an excuse of why he hurt that poor little defenseless child is unexcusable. He deserves whatever is handed down to him.