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Jury begins deliberations on Stephens’ fate

ANNAPOLIS — The jury that last week convicted Lee E. Stephens of first-degree murder began deliberating Wednesday afternoon whether he should be sentenced to death.

After hearing closing arguments from the state and the defense, the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court jury started deliberations at about 3:15 p.m. The jury can choose the death penalty, life with parole or life without the possibility of parole.

Stephens, 32, was convicted of murdering Cpl. David McGuinn a corrections officer at the now-closed Maryland House of Correction in Jessup. Stephens and another inmate jimmied the lock on their cell doors and ambushed McGuinn from behind as he took an inmate count.

Anne Arundel County Assistant State’s Attorney Sandra Howell told the jury that Stephens was an inmate who had already been convicted of murder for a 1997 shooting outside a Salisbury nightclub. She said the death penalty was called for in McGuinn’s murder because he was a sworn law enforcement officer.

“The defendant took the life of a corrections officer, a corrections officer who was doing his job,” she said. “For that crime, the law provides the ultimate penalty.”

Howell said the magnitude of what Stephens did far outweighed the mitigating circumstances the defense had raised. She said Stephens had a loving mother and siblings and an extended family that supported him.

Howell said Stephens started getting in trouble with the law at about 11 years old before the 1997 shooting of another man that landed Stephens in jail for felony murder. She said it was Stephens’ decisions, not his upbringing that led him to where he is today.

“He continued to choose the wrong path,” Howell said.

She also said that Stephens continued to pose a threat by pointing out that since the murder he has had violent run-ins with corrections staff. In one incident, Stephens assaulted a corrections officer during a search, punching the man and knocking him into a wall.

Stephens’ Baltimore-based attorney, Gary Proctor, said he “made no bones” about the fact that his closing argument amounted to begging for his client’s life. He told the jury about his client’s troubled past and abusive treatment at the hands of his father and stepfather. That, he said, was followed by incarceration at a juvenile facility and the notoriously violent House of Correction.

“A facility where you only fight your friends,” Proctor said. “Everyone else you put a knife in.”

He also reminded the jury that they could send his client away for life without the possibility of ever being released. He said a life sentence would mean just that, and that his client would die behind bars in a cell the size of a bathroom.

“He will pay and pay dearly,” Proctor said. “The question is, why do we need to kill him?”

The jury was sent home for the day shortly after 4:30 p.m. Deliberations will resume on Thursday morning.