ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) — After nearly a week of deliberations, a jury in Anne Arundel County still hasn’t agreed on a sentence for Lee Stephens. He’s the man convicted of murdering a corrections officer, and he’s eligible for the death penalty.
Weijia Jiang explains why the jury is struggling to make a decision.
Many people are watching this case very closely as it will set a critical precedent for death penalty cases in Maryland. But so far jurors have given no sign of what kind of work they’re doing.
Should twice convicted killer, 32-year-old Lee Stephens, live or die? Jurors have been deliberating a sentence since last Wednesday with no answer yet.
“Well, it’s not supposed to be easy for the state to kill someone. Even if you are in favor of the death penalty, most people recognize that we have to be sure,” said legal expert Andrew Levy.
The same jury found Stephens guilty of murdering Cpl. David McGuinn, 42, inside the now closed Maryland House of Correction in Jessup. McGuinn was working as a prison guard at the time. Stephens was serving a life sentence for another murder.
This is a landmark case. For the first time ever, prosecutors used a DNA link to pursue the death penalty under Maryland’s new and more stringent capital punishment law.
“The first case is always important. It’s always going to be something that both the courts and lawyers are going to look to set a baseline,” Levy said.
Since 2009, the state could only seek a death penalty in first-degree murder cases that have biological or DNA evidence, a video recording of the crime or a videotaped confession.
McGuinn’s blood was found splattered on Stephen’s clothing, shoes and cell bars.
Still the sentencing process is a meticulous one. The jurors must balance the crime against a long list of mitigating factors, such as whether the defendant acted under duress.
In Maryland, the only time a jury can hand down a death sentence is when the death penalty is on the table, and they have to reach a unanimous decision.
Jurors have gone home for the night. They will be back Wednesday morning.