Raleigh, N.C. — After a jury failed to reach a unanimous decision, a Superior Court judge sentenced a Raleigh man Tuesday to life in prison without parole for the 2009 murder and sexual assault of his 10-month-old stepdaughter.
The six men and six women spent almost 5½ hours Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning trying to decide whether Joshua Andrew Stepp should get a life or death sentence in the case. They thought they had reached a decision on a life sentence late Monday, but Judge Osmond Smith ordered jurors to continue deliberating after finding that at least one indicated that she had voted for the death penalty.
The decision on sentencing in a capital case must be unanimous. Otherwise, a mistrial is declared, and the defendant automatically receives a life sentence.
Prosecutors asked Smith to hold off on declaring a sentencing mistrial on Monday, saying jurors hadn't deliberated the case long enough.
The forewoman of the jury told Smith Monday that she didn't think jurors could agree on a sentence, but when the jury returned Tuesday morning, she told the judge that they would make another effort at consensus. They deliberated for another two hours Tuesday before declaring an impasse and defaulting to the life sentence.
Juror John Moore of Raleigh said jurors gave "full consideration" to the case before giving up on reaching a unanimous decision on sentencing.
"People were very committed to their positions, and there was no way you were ever going to sway that," Moore said.
Wake County Assistant District Attorney Adam Moyers said he respected the jury's efforts.
"To get 12 people to agree is a high bar," Moyers said. "That's the way it should be."
The jury convicted Stepp, 28, last Thursday of first-degree murder and sex offense of a child in the Nov. 8, 2009, beating death of Cheyenne Yarley.
Prosecutors said Stepp attempted to rape Cheyenne, beat her to death and then lied to her mother, emergency responders and police about what happened.
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.
Stepp will appeal the conviction, defense attorney Tommy Manning said, noting that he remains convinced the case was one of second-degree murder.
Still, Manning said he was pleased with the sentencing.
"We thought this was the correct result. It just took forever to get there," he said.