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Notes draw ire in murder trial

Trial: Attorneys in Stephens case argue over jury instructions, last-minute evidence

Posted: November 2, 2010 8:51 p.m.
Updated: November 3, 2010 4:55 a.m.
 

Lawyers in the trial of accused killer Michael Dean Stephens wrestled over how best to handle last-minute evidence Tuesday, as closing arguments are scheduled to begin today.

About 3:15 p.m., San Fernando Superior Court Judge Daniel B. Feldstern instructed the jury, in part, on the nuances of homicide, and in particular, about the distinctions between first- and second-degree murder and the meaning of manslaughter.

Jurors must weigh the relevance of testimony heard from a variety of people who witnessed different portions of a deadly, drunken brawl that took place on the night of Nov. 23, 2007, between two groups of young men in the Diamond Head apartment complex.

At issue is whether Stephens, now 21, acted in self-defense during a confrontation with 20-year-old Josh Pipho, who was later found dead that same night.

Prosecutors contend he stabbed Pipho 16 times, then ran over him with his car, striking another man, Chad Weitz, and then stabbing him about 16 times as well.

Stephens is charged with murder and attempted premeditated murder.

Most of Tuesday’s court proceedings took place without the jury present.

Deputy District Attorney Mary Sedgwick accused Stephens’ defense lawyer Peter J. Korn of withholding evidence — specifically, copies of handwritten notes taken during interviews conducted by defense-team investigators in 2008.

“This is a blatant discovery violation detrimental to the prosecution,” she said.

At one point, Sedgwick called on the judge to punish Korn.

“I’m asking for sanctions,” she said.

Feldstern, however, allowing the lawyers to debate the issue, eventually got them to agree to certain specific facts about the late evidence.

Sedgwick argued the handwritten notes contained new information she could have used to better build her case if she had received them from Korn when she asked.

“I did not receive these statements until after the witnesses testified,” she told Feldstern while the jurors waited in the hall outside the courtroom.

“The handwritten notes would have been beneficial to me,” she said. “There are some points made that I would have brought up with the witnesses.”

Two pieces of testimonial evidence concerned Sedgwick most.

First, statements were made to defense investigators Jan. 21, 2008, by a witness stating he noticed the headlights were turned off on the defendant’s car when Stephens drove up an alley inside the Diamond Head complex and almost struck a garage.

Second, statements were made by another witness on Jan. 4, 2008, that she remembered the defendant received a cell phone call in which “Tim (Woodhead) called (Stephens) and told him what was going on at Diamond Head.”

At the end of the day, both of these last-minute pieces of evidence were read to the jury as facts agreed to by the prosecution and the defense.

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