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Stephens’ death sentence clears DNA hurdle

Ben Mook//Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer//February 13, 2012

Stephens’ death sentence clears DNA hurdle

By Ben Mook

//Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer

//February 13, 2012

An Anne Arundel jury on Monday moved one step closer to handing down the death penalty against Lee E. Stephens, an inmate convicted of ambushing and murdering a corrections officer at the now-closed Maryland House of Correction in 2006.

The case now moves into a second phase of sentencing where aggravating and mitigating factors will be presented before the jury makes a final decision.

The jury, which on Thursday convicted Stephens of the first-degree murder of Cpl. David McGuinn, determined that Stephens was sufficiently linked to the crime by DNA evidence to warrant the death penalty.

It marked the first time a jury has reached that conclusion since Maryland’s capital punishment law was revised in 2009. Under the revisions, imposition of the death penalty requires DNA or biological evidence, a videotaped confession or video evidence, in addition to proof that the defendant was a principal in the first degree — that is, that he wielded the knife that caused McGuinn’s mortal injuries.

The defense claimed the DNA evidence put Stephens at the scene of McGuinn’s stabbing but was insufficient to prove he committed the crime.

The jury will re-convene on Wednesday morning to hear more testimony about the aggravating factors of the crime and will weigh them against any mitigating factors his defense team presents to explain why he should not be put to death.

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

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

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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