Trial starts for stepfather accused of killing infant

Joshua Stepp

August 22, 2011 12:34:43 PM PDT
The trial of a Raleigh man accused of murdering his infant stepdaughter is underway at the Wake County Courthouse.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys have spent more than a month picking jurors for the death penalty case against 28-year-old Joshua Stepp.

During jury selection, his attorneys conceded he is responsible for the death of 10-month-old Cheyenne Yarley, but they say he is not guilty of first-degree murder.

In November 2009, Stepp lived at an Raleigh apartment on Jones Franklin Road with his wife, her daughter Cheyenne, and his toddler daughter.

Stepp told police and paramedics that Yarley had choked after eating toilet paper and had fallen from a couch. But prosecutors have told jurors there is no way her death could have been caused by either.

In January 2010, an autopsy report released by the North Carolina Office of the Chief Medical Examiner stated that 10-month-old girl died from abusive head trauma and that she was also sexually assaulted.

On Monday, one of Stepp's attorneys told jurors that the only person who was there when Cheyenne was injured would tell them about it. The attorney pledged to put Stepp on the stand to answer questions in detail about what happened to a child they say he loved.

"Her crying and screaming was getting to him. He could not figure out how to comfort her and was, as he will describe it to you, losing it," said attorney Tommy Manning.

Manning also talked about Stepp's Army service, saying he had to leave active military duty in order to be a single parent to his daughter.

They say posttraumatic stress from his time in Iraq, combined with alcohol and prescription drugs, played a role in Stepp's one-time abuse of the child.

Meanwhile, prosecutors have to prove to jurors that the murder was especially heinous, atrocious, and cruel in order for Stepp to be put to death.

What they described to jurors Monday morning - the rape and beating of an infant - would appear to fit that legal definition of capital murder.

"He was supposed to take care of her and he murdered her," prosecutor Adam Moyers said.

Due to the details of the case being extremely graphic, the trial will not be streamed live on

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