Thursday, July 26, 2007

State might not seek death penalty in Wildwood killing case


BUSHNELL — The state attorney trying to convict a Wildwood man in the May killing of the man’s aunt does not anticipate seeking the death penalty in the case, he said Wednesday.

That all could change, however, if and when 5th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Pete Magrino sees information on possible juvenile offenses committed by defendant Maurice Stephens, 18, during time spent in Tennessee, Magrino said.

“Because of the facts of the offense and because of his age,” the case did not fit criteria set forth by the Florida Supreme Court as a potential capital murder case, the prosecutor said.

“The only thing subject to change would be the information from the state of Tennessee,” Magrino said. He did not discuss the case further.

Judge William Hallman III arraigned Stephens Wednesday morning in a Bushnell courtroom and reviewed a “not guilty” plea entered by Stephens’ court-assigned attorney, Cliff Travis of Citrus County, who was not present at the hearing. Hallman set the next pretrial hearing in the case for 1:30 p.m. Sept. 26.

Documents obtained by the Daily Sun from the Juvenile Court of Memphis and Shelby County, Tenn., show Stephens has been jailed at least twice in that state as a juvenile on charges of false imprisonment, domestic assault, aggravated burglary and arson.

Juvenile authorities in Tennessee also placed Stephens in the custody of his aunt, JoAnn Wade, who he is accused of killing last May in the home the two shared with other relatives just west of Wildwood. Sumter County sheriff’s deputies found a bloody hammer and a pair of sneakers, which witnesses identified as belonging to Stephens, in one of the home’s closets after another relative found Wade’s body in the house.

Last week, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist signed the state’s first death warrant of his term, effectively ending a seven-month moratorium on the death penalty imposed by former Gov. Jeb Bush. The December lethal-injection execution of convicted murderer Angel N. Diaz took more than a half-hour, prompting Bush to order a stop to the executions and a review of the state’s lethal-injection procedures and policies.

Benjamin Roode is a writer with the Daily Sun. He can be reached at 753-1119, ext. 9224, or

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