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Closing arguments in Stephens murder trial

Trial: Attorneys sum up their cases; was accused murderer Stephens acting in self-defense?

Posted: November 3, 2010 8:47 p.m.
Updated: November 4, 2010 4:55 a.m.
 

Alleged killer Michael Dean Stephens sat still as a stone Wednesday as lawyers addressed the young man’s intentions on a night three years ago when one man was left dead and another nearly dead after a drunken brawl.

Defense lawyer Peter J. Korn said Stephens acted in self-defense, having been confronted with several “stressors” that created a state of “heightened fear” in his client.

Deputy District Attorney Mary Sedgwick, however, said Stephens intended to kill 20-year-old Joshua Pipho when he stabbed him 16 times, then got into his car and drove over Pipho, struck Chad Weitz, got out of his car again and stabbed Weitz 16 times as well.

“A stab wound to Josh’s jugular (vein) demonstrates an intent to kill,” she told jurors at San Fernando Superior Court. “That’s a vital part of the body.

“Stab wounds in the chest and into the lungs also demonstrate an intent to kill.”

Stephens, now 21, is charged with murder and attempted murder.

In the closing minutes of the case being made against him, it was Stephens’ intentions on the night of Nov. 23, 2007, that became the focus of closing arguments made by both lawyers.

Jurors were instructed, at length, by both Superior Court Judge Daniel B. Feldstern and by Sedgwick on the distinctions between the charge of murder in the first and second degree and about the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter.

At one point, Sedgwick asked jurors: “Who was attacked?”

She then itemized a long list of physical evidence presented during the monthlong murder trial that pertained to injuries Stephens inflicted on Pipho and Weitz.

In the case of Pipho, she used autopsy photographs to remind jurors of the seven fatal stab wounds interpreted by the coroner, including those to the victim’s neck and chest.

Sedgwick also reminded the jury of nine additional knife wounds the coroner observed on Pipho’s body, as well as a “kicking” injury to his head and a crushed pelvis.

The injury list for Weitz, also displayed on an overhead projector, was as long as Pipho’s list, with the marked distinction being that Weitz survived.

His injuries included: 16 stab wounds, a bulging spinal disc, a “large hematoma” on his head, a brain contusion, “road rash” abrasions and the fact that he required numerous blood transfusions to replenish extensive blood loss.

“Is there any good reason to doubt this evidence?” Sedgwick asked in her final address to the jury. “On behalf of the state of California, I ask you to find the defendant guilty of murder and attempted murder.”

Korn presented two lists for the jury as well — one called “aggressors” and the other called “stressors.”

“These stressors can have an accumulative affect,” he said in closing. “And when these accumulate, you’re suddenly in survival mode. This happens over a series of stressful events.”

In listing the aggressor factors confronting his client at the Diamond Head apartment complex Nov. 23, 2007, Korn reminded the jury of evidence pointing to escalating violence.

At one point in the confrontation between two groups of young men that night, one witness told investigators “reinforcements” were called to the fight.

Another witness, Korn said, testified hearing Pipho say “I want to (expletive) someone up.”

Korn told jurors Pipho knocked out Stephens’ friend Daniel Bateman, took his skateboard, then punched Stephens’ other friend Tim Woodhead and grabbed a baseball bat.

Other aggressors perceived by Stephens as threats to his life included seeing Weitz smash the windshield of his car with a bat and seeing others kicking his car.

“(Pipho) is the aggressor, according to Wendy Bentley,” said Korn, naming one particular witness.

All of these stressful factors contributed to “heightened fear” for his client, he said.

“(Stephens) pulls out his knife because he’s scared, but he’s operating under a lot of intense emotions ... He tells (Pipho) to ‘chill, chill,’ but that doesn’t deter (Pipho).

“Now, he’s in high fear, high survival, so that when Josh lunges and punches and tries to take the knife, he reacts.”

The jury is now expected to weigh the evidence presented to them, deliberate and come up with a verdict.

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