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Despite verdict, jury continues weighing Raleigh man's fate

Posted September 12, 2011

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— A Wake County jury tasked with deciding whether a Raleigh man should be sentenced to death for killing his 10-month-old stepdaughter told a Superior Court judge Monday that they can't reach a unanimous decision.

The six men and six women spent most of the afternoon deliberating after prosecutors and defense attorneys for Joshua Andrew Stepp argued their reasons for and against the death penalty Monday morning.

Stepp, 28, was convicted last Thursday of first-degree murder and sex offense of a child in the Nov. 8, 2009, beating death of Cheyenne Yarley.

By 4:30 p.m., the jury decided on a sentence of life in prison, but Superior Court Judge Osmond Smith ordered jurors to continue deliberating after finding that at least one indicated that she voted for the death penalty.

The sentencing decision must be unanimous. If the jury becomes deadlocked, Smith would have to declare a sentencing mistrial, meaning Stepp would automatically be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Prosecutors asked that the judge hold off on declaring a mistrial, saying jurors hadn't deliberated the case long enough.

"This is the question of life and death, and three-and-a-half hours isn't a significant length of time for this case," Wake County Assistant District Attorney Adam Moyers said.

The state contends that Stepp attempted to rape Cheyenne, beat her to death and then lied to her mother, emergency responders and police about what happened.

"He nearly tore her to pieces," Moyers said Monday morning during closing argument in the sentencing phase of Stepp's trial.

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.

"There's no excusing it. There's no one in this room who wishes it didn't happen, but there is an explanation for what happened," defense attorney Tommy Manning told jurors.

Manning noted that witnesses testified that Stepp has been a good father to his older daughter, was a good soldier and a trustworthy employee.

Moyers, however, said Cheyenne's murder was so heinous that it was like a black hole.

"He has forfeited his right to live," he said of Stepp.

69 Comments

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  • Frizz Sep 13, 2011

    scarletindurham has a good idea -

    "I swear they need to allow for public stonings for people like this...."

    If we sold rocks to the public we could probably help the budget problems here in NC

  • jurydoc Sep 13, 2011

    As to the costs of having the DP on the table. ..
    The moment a prosecutor decides to charge a case as a capital offense a number of procedural safeguards are put into place to assure that an innocent person is not executed. This begins with having the right to 2 trial attorneys rather than just one. Also, these attorneys need to have experience and special training, thus the state fee established for reimbursement for court appointed attorneys for a capital case is slightly higher per hour than for non-capital cases. There are also costs associated with the defense for investigators, mitigation specialists and other experts that would not be incurred if the DP were not on the table. In addition to costs of adjudication at the trial level there are the appellate costs. Thus, ALL the costs, from adjudication to appeal to incarceration must factor into the cost analysis, NOT simply the costs to execute vs. the cost to incarcerate.

  • jducatte1 Sep 13, 2011

    Why are people saying to Free this guy? He is a murderer. Granted, he served his country however there have been many hundreds of thousands that did as well that did not come back and kill an innocent little girl. Please keep idiotic remarks like this to your idiotic self. As someone else mentioned, would you want him babysitting your kids?????

  • airbornemonty Sep 13, 2011

    If Stepp gets life and I believe that he will, he'll likely become another "Casey Anthony" case where the media will pay the people involved in the case thousands of dollars for interviews.

    His parents will make money with media interviews, The attorneys involved will make money for interviews.

    The only people that won't make a penny are us posters. We rant and rave trying to persuade others why the death penalty would be justified and the others why it isn't.

    And it really doesn't matter, when the verdict comes in, the trial is over and the case is closed.

  • fayncmike Sep 13, 2011

    "10 years in prison at a cost of $40K/yr = $400,000. How is it more expensive?
    jbarron4950"

    The appeals process routinely runs into the millions of dollars.

  • fayncmike Sep 13, 2011

    "@fayncmike - Why does it cost more to murder the criminal on death row than to incarcerate them for life? I never understood the why on it, since it is done quickly and would help with the overcrowding of the jails.
    Kelondris"

    It costs more due to the HUGE cost of mandatory appeals and such. Those are necessary to try to not murder people wrongly convicted. Have you not been reading about the many people who have been convicted of capitol crimes only to have their convictions overturned due to more modern evidence processing techniques?

  • Kelondris Sep 13, 2011

    @fayncmike - Why does it cost more to murder the criminal on death row than to incarcerate them for life? I never understood the why on it, since it is done quickly and would help with the overcrowding of the jails.

  • jbarron4950 Sep 13, 2011

    I will never understand why people would want to lower themselves to the level of murderers by murdering them. I see little or no difference between an individual committing murder and the state committing murder. Also, on a slightly more practical note, the cost to the state is much higher to murder a criminal than it is to incarcerate him for life. Were I to be a juror there is no way in heck I'd be any part of "legalized murder.".....fayncmike

    10 years in prison at a cost of $40K/yr = $400,000. How is it more expensive?

  • fayncmike Sep 13, 2011

    I will never understand why people would want to lower themselves to the level of murderers by murdering them. I see little or no difference between an individual committing murder and the state committing murder. Also, on a slightly more practical note, the cost to the state is much higher to murder a criminal than it is to incarcerate him for life. Were I to be a juror there is no way in heck I'd be any part of "legalized murder."

  • n ter tained Sep 13, 2011

    Free him? After what he did? Perhaps you would like him to come to your house and care for YOUR children?

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