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In rare move, death penalty sought against Raleigh man

Posted July 18, 2011
Updated August 22, 2011

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— A Raleigh man on trial for sexually abusing and killing his 10-month-old stepdaughter is only the third person in Wake County to face a possible death sentence since 2007, when executions were effectively put on hold in North Carolina.

Jury selection began Monday in the capital murder trial of Joshua Andrew Stepp, 28, who is charged with first-degree murder and first-degree sex offense of a child in the Nov. 8, 2009, death of Cheyenne Emery Yarley.

Stepp told a 911 dispatcher that the girl choked on toilet paper, but an autopsy found that she had been beaten to death.

It's expected to take two weeks for a jury to be seated, and attorneys said they expect testimony to last approximately three weeks.

A de facto moratorium on the death penalty has been in place since 2007 because of legal challenges to how executions are carried out in North Carolina, where 158 people are on death row.

As a result, Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby says, prosecutors across the state are now less inclined to seek the death penalty partially because jurors seem less inclined to vote for it and because the cases are more expensive to try.

"We all have a shortage of resources, and we recognized that we have to be very careful in selecting the cases that we try that way," he said.

Of the 36 homicide cases on the court docket in Wake County, Willoughby said, five are currently designated as capital cases.

NC death penalty cases becoming rare NC death penalty cases becoming rare

Willoughby says his office seeks the death penalty only in the most egregious cases in which there is a significant chance that a jury will enter a death verdict.

Since 2006, that's been two cases.

Byron Lamar Waring was sentenced to death in July 2007 for the November 2005 stabbing death of Lauren Redman inside her Raleigh apartment.

Last year, Wake prosecutors unsuccessfully sought the death penalty against Samuel James Cooper, who was convicted of killing five men in a series of shootings across Wake County.

"Many (jurors) believe that life imprisonment is appropriate for most serious murders," Willoughby said. "Only in a few cases is the death penalty an appropriate sentence."

Ty Hunter, executive director for the Durham-based Center for Death Penalty Litigation, says that, statistics show that people like having the death penalty "in theory" but not "in practice and that juries have become "less than enthusiastic" about giving it.

On average, there are 10 death penalty trials across the state every year and that only two or three result in a death sentence.

That's down significantly from the 1990s, he says, when prosecutors tried an average of 50 death penalty cases annually, with approximately half resulting in death sentences.

Since 2006, 15 people across the state have been sentenced to death, including one this year.

Prior to that, 243 people were sentenced to death since the death penalty was reinstated in North Carolina in 1984. Forty-three people have been executed since then.

The last execution, in August 2006, was Samuel Flippen, a Forsyth County man convicted of first-degree murder in the 1994 beating death of his 2-year-old stepdaughter.

"People are just a lot less enthusiastic about the death penalty," Hunter said. "I think North Carolinians are content with the situation we have now. We have a death penalty, but we're not executing anybody."

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  • aprilhixm Aug 24, 2011

    AMEN to this statement "The death penalty is very underutilized in this country. All instances of first degree murder and child rape should be death penalty cases unless there are very strong mitigating circumstances"
    If this is how we would handle low life cruelty of this nature to our children in this country, it might possibly get a little better instead of continuing to become worse and more common.

  • JustOneGodLessThanU Jul 21, 2011

    Jaurez City? in Mexico?

    Huh?

    What does that place...a place with a completely different culture and completely different laws and completely different Constitution...have to do with the hard stastistics from our United States? This is methodical gathering of data followed by mathematical analysis...also known as "facts".

    Are you so desperate to support using the government to kill people...that you'd reach into Mexico to try to find something to support your factually-vacuous assertion? ...to support your blood lust?

    Face it, death penalty states have more murderers per capita...many more. Ignore reality at your own peril, but you’re not going to sell your irrationality to thinking people.

  • MikeTysonsPunchOut Jul 20, 2011

    I like how this has turned into a debate about the death penalty and 'who's right' and 'who's wrong'...
    How about this...let's put THIS guy to death.

    @thepeopleschamp - I liked that 'the stats bend in any direction you want them to'. Very true.

  • thepeopleschamp Jul 19, 2011

    2009 Murder Rates (per 100,000 people):
    “Death Penalty States” was 4.9
    “Non-Death Penalty States” was 2.8"
    "According to my math, you're 75% more likely to be murdered in a state that has the death penalty than in a state without it."
    hereandnow99

    If I'm not mistaken Juarez, Mexico does not have a death penalty and is one of the most dagerous places on earth. Stats bend in any direction you want them to.

  • brentf777 Jul 19, 2011

    The death penalty is very underutilized in this country. All instances of first degree murder and child rape should be death penalty cases unless there are very strong mitigating circumstances (physical abuse of defendant by the deceased, mental disability. etc). For all those who cite the ineffectiveness of the death penalty in reducing violent crime, the problem is not with the death penalty itself but the way it's carried out. Once a person is convicted, all appeals should be processed and heard and sentence carried out within 6 months, not 10-20 years. The appeals process should not be allowed to be drawn out for years on end with repeated deferences.

  • ICTrue Jul 19, 2011

    "While many people may *like* the idea of the government killing someone... According to the hard data, the death penalty does *not* reduce or deter murders...quite the opposite, in fact" hereandnow99

    The opposite? So it is your position that the death penalty encourages murder? Have you ever thought about applying a little common sense before you speak?

  • sparky27604 Jul 19, 2011

    All felony cases should be tried as capital punishment cases. Then we'll see a strong deterrent and very likely less crime.

  • cmama Jul 19, 2011

    While states have the death penalty, it is rarely used and if they are put to death it us usually many YEARS after their conviction. Not much of a deterrent when they gamble that nothing will happen in punishment at least for years it they get caught.

  • JustOneGodLessThanU Jul 19, 2011

    While many people may *like* the idea of the government killing someone... According to the hard data, the death penalty does *not* reduce or deter murders...quite the opposite, in fact.

    2009 Murder Rates (per 100,000 people):

    “Death Penalty States” was 4.9

    “Non-Death Penalty States” was 2.8

    According to my math, you're 75% more likely to be murdered in a state that has the death penalty than in a state without it.

    www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/murder-rates-nationally-and-state

  • JustOneGodLessThanU Jul 19, 2011

    If you committed this crime and they caught you, what punishment would you rather have?

    1- Death Penalty

    2- 8' concrete cube cell with no windows and just a toilet, sink & cot and no way to end your own life. Food gets slid under the door. You stay like that until you die "naturally".

    My guess is that most would prefer option #1...so let's give them option #2.

    And for us, option #2 is certainly a lot cheaper. Even now with our fancy jails, death penalty prosecution is much more expensive than life in prison. We could build concrete boxes anywhere...even the desert.

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