Local News

NC Supreme Court to hear Raleigh stepdad's bid for new murder trial

Posted October 1, 2014 2:24 p.m. EDT
Updated October 1, 2014 2:32 p.m. EDT

— The North Carolina Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments for Nov. 17 in the appeal of an Iraq War veteran convicted of sexually assaulting and killing his 10-month-old stepdaughter five years ago.

The state Court of Appeals earlier this year overturned Joshua Andrew Stepp's September 2011 conviction after finding that the judge improperly instructed the jury.

Testifying at his trial, Stepp, 31, of Raleigh, denied the sexual offense but admitted to beating Cheyenne Yarley to death in November 2009 while her mother was at work. He claimed, however, he did not know why he killed the girl.

Defense attorneys argued that Stepp was guilty of second-degree murder because he suffered post-traumatic stress disorder, as a result of his Army service, and couldn't handle Cheyenne's crying that night.

Wake County prosecutors, who unsuccessfully sought the death penalty, contended that Stepp attempted to rape the child, shook her and slammed her face into the carpet and then lied to her mother, emergency workers and police about what happened.

Stepp was found guilty under what's called the felony murder rule, meaning the jury found that the child's death happened in conjunction with another felony crime, which would have been the sexual offense charge.

The Court of Appeals' 2-1 ruling stemmed from Superior Court Judge Osmond Smith improperly informing jurors about the defense's claim that evidence of sexual assault was actually the result of Stepp roughly cleaning the girl while he changed her diaper.