Lusby man gets 20 years for attempted murder

After hearing testimony focused mainly on the mental state of the defendant at the time of the attack, a Calvert Circuit Court judge sentenced a Lusby man to 20 years in a correctional mental health center Friday for attempted murder more than two years after he beat a neighbor with two bricklike paving stones. Judge E. Gregory Wells said because of the “vicious nature of the crime,” he could not in good conscience simply release Jarel A. Stepney, 24, although a mental health professional who had evaluated him concluded that he was experiencing a psychotic breakdown as a result of his bipolar disorder before, during and after the incident. Conversely, having that same information, he decided to “spare” Stepney a life sentence, opting instead for the time at the Patuxent Institution followed by five years of supervised probation.“You’ve been dealt a rough hand [in life],” Wells said, addressing Stepney directly before passing down the sentence. But the judge then acknowledged that there were probably five or six other people in the room who had hard lives, as well, without ever trying to kill another person. The witnesses who testified — Dr. Carole Giunta and Stepney’s mother for the defense, and the victim for the prosecution — offered their impressions of what led Stepney to carry out what even public defender Richard Rydelek recognized was an “undeserved and savage attack” the morning of April 5, 2012. Giunta, a clinical and forensic psychologist who evaluated Stepney after the attack, detailed Stepney’s lifelong struggles with anger management and aggression, which she said culminated in an “acute psychotic decomposition” about a week before his 18th birthday — with his behavior changing drastically in days and leaving him plagued by delusions both paranoid and grandiose. Effectively controlled until Stepney turned 21, his symptoms returned when he became ineligible for his health insurance and his family could no longer afford the medications he needed, Giunta said. While Stepney lived — mostly in self-imposed isolation — for about a year and a half after going off his medications, in the days before the attack he began responding to the voices he heard, giving away possessions he valued and leaving the house more, she said. This led to his being discovered sleeping on a bench by law enforcement the day after his family home had been destroyed in a fire. When he said his only friend was his neighbor and soon-to-be victim, officers took him to the victim’s home. The victim testified at the hearing that he had known Stepney for years as neighbors but has no real relationship with him. When the two went outside to smoke cigarettes, Stepney punched the other man and, once he was on the ground, commenced striking him in the head with the paver, apparently convinced the victim was being sexually inappropriate with children — a claim prosecutor Andrew Rappaport emphasized is not at all rooted in reality. The victim called Stepney’s “timid” and “confused” demeanor — he did not speak during the hearing — a charade, saying he would continue to act this way if permitted to return to society.But Stepney’s mother, Louise Logan, said her son is not a culprit but a victim of mental illness who would have full support from his family if he were released. “This is a good young man. My love for him is never-ending,” said Logan, who also told the court that she never had a problem with Stepney until the onset of his bipolar disorder in his late teens. “Jarel is as much a victim as anyone else, and I know that’s hard to see.”Prosecutor Andrew Rappaport disagreed, arguing that Stepney’s actions were goal-oriented and anti-social rather than psychotic, citing that he had used logical thinking to steal food from a gas station just before the incident and that he was involved in physical altercations with other patients in the center where he was held afterward. “Essentially, he’s just a big adult bully,” Rappaport said. Refuting this claim, public defender Rydelek described his client’s life at the time of the incident as a “vortex of chaos” and appealed to the judge that the criminal justice system is an “awkward” platform to treat what he sees as a medical situation.“I’m asking the court to treat this case with the sensitivity it deserves,” he said. <a href="">afrazier@somdnews.com</a>

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