Stepmom makes impassioned plea for stepson's life
Posted September 9, 2011
Raleigh, N.C. — 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.
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."