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Stepmom makes impassioned plea for stepson's life

Posted September 9, 2011

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— The stepmother of a Raleigh man facing a potential death sentence for the murder two years ago of his infant stepdaughter tearfully pleaded with jurors Friday to spare his life.

After about seven hours of deliberation, the jury of six men and six women found Joshua Andrew Stepp guilty Thursday of first-degree murder and sex offense of a child in the Nov. 8, 2009, beating death of 10-month-old Cheyenne Yarley.

"I accept your verdict in this case, and I know that it wasn't easy," Anne Stepp said. "And you've heard everything that has to be said, including Joshua's testimony, but what you heard about was one moment in his life. This is not the Josh that I know. This is not the Josh that we raised."

Prosecutors said Josh Stepp, 28, attempted to rape and beat the child to death inside their Raleigh home and then lied to the girl's mother, emergency responders and police about what happened.

Stepp, who testified on his own behalf last week, admitted to killing her, although he said he didn't know why he did, but denied the accusations of sexual assault.

Defense attorneys argued that his actions amounted to second-degree murder, because he was self-medicating at the time with prescription painkillers and alcohol to treat an undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from combat in Iraq, where he saw members of his platoon killed by a roadside bomb.

Injuries indicative of a sexual assault, they argued, were the result of overly aggressive diaper changing.

Anne Stepp was the last of nearly a dozen friends and family members whom defense attorneys called in an effort to keep Stepp off death row.

They rested their case Friday morning, and Superior Court Judge Osmond Smith dismissed the jurors until Monday, when attorneys will present closing arguments in the sentencing phase of Stepp's trial.

Stepmom makes impassioned plea for Stepp's life Stepmom makes impassioned plea for Stepp's life

Anne Stepp offered a different side to her stepson, whom she raised since he was 6 years old, for jurors while on the stand.

"I saw in Josh the spark of life that, as a parent, you want to nourish, nurture and let it grow. He was mischievous and playful, but he was always ready to stand up for somebody else who he felt had been wronged," she said.

Growing up, he had some difficult times as a teenager. She and his father encouraged him to join the military, where, she said, he blossomed.

He became a sergeant in the Army, and in 2005, served a tour of duty in Iraq.

"They all saw and did things that haunted them," Anne Stepp said. "While it wasn't as noticeable with Josh, there were things that he didn't want to talk about. He drank more. And at that time, he was a single father trying to raise his daughter."

At the time of Cheyenne's death, Josh Stepp had primary custody of his 4-year-old daughter.

He chose his daughter over his military career, his stepmother said, and was trying to get back into the Army after he met Cheyenne's mother, Brittany Yarley.

"He married Brittany so he could get back into the Army, and he was delighted with her baby. He enjoyed taking care of Cheyenne," Anne Stepp said. "He wanted to be her father, too."

Josh Stepp testified that he had been drinking heavily on Nov. 8, 2009, and that he was left to watch his daughter and stepdaughter while Brittany Yarley was at work.

The baby wouldn't stop crying, he said, and all he wanted to do was get her to stop. He couldn't account for his actions.

"He's been haunted by what happened," Anne Stepp said. "He can't sleep. He has nightmares, and in his jail cell, he has a photo of Cheyenne. Every day, he looks at that and wishes he could take that back.

"Putting him on death row will not bring back Cheyenne or punish him more than he punishes himself right now," she added. "He wants to enjoy watching his daughter grow, even if it's only going to be through photographs and maybe letters. He wants to be a part of her life, and she wants to be a part of his.

"So, I ask you all to remember that our lives have value too. Joshua's life has value, and he can still positively affect the lives of other people, and I would appreciate if you would give him the chance to do that."

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  • sjackson1066 Sep 13, 2011

    Well I do totally agree with THE FACT THAT YOU CAN RAISE YOUR CHILD THE VERY BEST THERE IS BUT IT IS UP TO THAT INDIVIDUAL AS TO WHAT HE OR SHE DOES WITH THEIR LIFE. STOP AND I MEAN STOP BLAMING THE PARENTS FOR WHAT SOMEONE DOES WITH THEIR ADULT LIFE. YOU CAN TAKE A CHILD THAT WAS RAISE WITH ALL THE LOVE, AFFECTION, AND MORALE VALUES AND THEY GROW UP TO BE A EVIL PERSON BECAUSE THEY CHOSE TO. LIVE BY THE RULES OF THE LAND....

  • whistler411 Sep 9, 2011

    I really get tired of the anti-death penalty folks who argue that it is not a deterrent. I don't really care if it doesn't deter others. It will deter this guy from ever murdering again. Some people do things so heinous that they forfeit their right to life. Sexually assaulting and murdering a TEN MONTH OLD definitely fits that bill.

  • shortcake53 Sep 9, 2011

    Well AnneOzzy, you may not think it deters crime to use the death penalty, but it sure cant hurt either. WHY do we need horrible creeps like this on the face of the earth? Why should they live after they have taken another life?

  • shortcake53 Sep 9, 2011

    I bet the baby would have liked it if someone pleaded for mercy for her too.......

  • airbornemonty Sep 9, 2011

    I would ask his stepmother to stop groveling in a pool of tears for her stepson and instead shed a tear or two for the innocent child that he so ruthlessly murdered.

    I also noticed during his plea that the PTSD has suddenly disapperared, is it a miracle or what!

  • affirmativediversity Sep 9, 2011

    "The death penalty has long been know not to be a deterrent for these horrible acts... You can kill and kill and kill...for retribtuion. It will not end these instances where people are so harshly driven by what we know not unless we can study the cases" per anne53ozzy

    ----------------------

    What an absolute crock of @#$#@!

    The death penality would be the ulitmate detterent for this guy...after all, he'd be dead and we'd all be 100% sure he wouldn't do it again!

    Next, why is it that YOU PEOPLE are all convinced that homosexuality it genetic and therefore not "a choice" or influenced by "upbringing" BUT infantile pedophilia "has to be studied" in order to determine its purely environmental cause?

    Which is it...is a person's sexuality genetic or choice? Why does "evil" always have to be someone else's fault but good always the responsibility of the doer?

  • RB aka Spirit Warrior Woman Sep 9, 2011

    slcota - "I cant even BEGIN to imagine what a "rough diaper change" would be to inflict the injury's (or any injury at that) to that little girl that made medical professionals believe she had been abused that way."

    I was a registered nanny for over ten years and cleaned up more messes than most people do in their own families.

    I can't think of a single way where a child would receive an4l and vagin4al injuries from even the most rigorous cleaning after a messy diaper change, and even it that is the truth, it wouldn't explain HER blood in HIS underwear.

  • ncouterbanks69 Sep 9, 2011

    "This is not the Josh that I know. This is not the Josh that we raised."

    Maybe not but your son has no business living in this world any longer. Boo Hoo do you not know what he did? I hope they do not put enough poison in that needle and he suffers. He deserves worse.

  • nclissy79 Sep 9, 2011

    anne53ozzy - where I, too, usually say 'it all starts at home,' that isn't always the case. You can raise your child to the best he or she can be and they still come out rotten for the decisions they make outside of their parent's watchful eye and guidance. In another time he may never have done this, but he did. He was unable to control himself in this situation.

  • Southern Girl Sep 9, 2011

    And how much consideration did HE give to that precious, innocent baby? None...absolutely none. I can't believe that step-mother of his got on that stand and did what she did. That is so shameful, and she is not believed. He should get the death penalty for what he did. I hope the jury will see it that way. The baby did not have a chance. RIP.

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