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Stephens guilty of first-degree murder; sentencing starts Monday

Ben Mook//Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer//February 9, 2012

Stephens guilty of first-degree murder; sentencing starts Monday

By Ben Mook

//Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer

//February 9, 2012

ANNAPOLIS — Lee E. Stephens was convicted Thursday of the first-degree murder of a corrections officer at the now-closed Maryland House of Correction in Jessup. He faces the death penalty when sentencing begins next week.

An Anne Arundel County jury deliberated for nearly 40 hours over whether Stephens killed Cpl. David McGuinn in an ambush attack in 2006. It was the lengthiest deliberation in the county in decades, said one court observer who spoke on condition of anonymity because a gag order is still in place pending sentencing.

Stephens, 32, is due back in court Monday at 9 a.m., when he is expected to say that he wants the jury to decide his sentence. The jury has already decided that there is an aggravating factor — the victim’s status as a law enforcement officer — which makes Stephens eligible for the death penalty.

Stephens also has the option to have Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judge Paul A. Hackner handle the sentencing.

Along with the guilty verdict for first-degree murder, jurors found Stephens not guilty of a second charge of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. The jury had the option of finding Stephens guilty of second-degree murder.

McGuinn was the only guard on the tier when he was slain at about 10 p.m. on July 25, 2006 and was conducting the final inmate count of the night.

Prosecutors claim Stephens and another inmate, Lamarr Harris, rigged their cell doors so that they appeared to close, but could be easily jimmied open — apparently a frequent occurrence on that tier. McGuinn was wearing a protective vest on the night of the attack, and medical personnel who treated him said he had been stabbed eight times in unprotected areas including his neck and shoulders.

The motive for the killing offered by the prosecution was that McGuinn, whom the inmates had nicknamed “Homeland Security,” was a by-the-book officer who threatened the trade in contraband goods on the cell block.

Stephens claimed that he did not participate in the stabbing. Harris was not on trial.

In the next phase of the trial, the jury or the judge will decide whether Stephens is the person who actually killed McGuinn. The determination is needed for the death penalty to be applied.

After that, the jury or the judge will weigh the aggravating factors in the case against any mitigating ones, such as personal history.

Stephens was in jail after being convicted in Wicomico County in August 1999 of felonious homicide, first-degree assault and handgun charges. He was sentenced to life plus 15 years for the murder that occurred in Salisbury.


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