Nephew of slain Florence couple faces charges tied to Aurora murder

Charles R. Stephenson arrested and jailed

AURORA, Ind. - Aurora police may have gotten a big break Friday in their investigation into the murder of Leigh Jennings.

Charles R. Stephenson, 58, of Walton, was charged with tampering with evidence and trafficking in a controlled substance and ordered held for Indiana authorities.

Stephenson had been called a "person-of-interest" in the Jennings case after he tried to take his own life Monday, when a search warrant was executed at his apartment on Old Stephenson Mill Road.

He'd been held for psychiatric examination at St. Elizabeth Health Care in Florence until the charges were filed. Once arrested, he was then taken to the Boone County Jail and is being held on a $50,000 cash bond.

The big question now is whether Stephenson moves from "person-of-interest" to prime suspect in the Jennings murder. Aurora police on Friday said they had a suspect in the case, but refused to name him.

Another major issue is whether Stephenson becomes more of a suspect in the slaying of his uncle and aunt, Bill and Peggy Stephenson, at their Florence home in May of 2011. That case remains unsolved.

On Friday, Aurora Police Chief Bryan Fields joined Dearborn County Prosecutor Aaron Negangard to update the media on the Jennings case.

The briefing occurred about the same time Stephenson was being arrested and booked in Boone County.

Many people had been expecting charges to be filed, but that was not what occurred.

"My office's responsibility is to justice and it is important to that end that we insure a complete and thorough investigation is done before making any charges," said Negangard. "To that end, we are not filing charges at this time. The investigation is ongoing."

Within an hour, detectives from the Aurora Police Department and Indiana State Police were back at the Jennings house on Aspen Ridge Road looking for new clues in the case.

Chief Fields confirmed there was a suspect, but defended his decision not to name him, even when Stephenson's name was brought up by reporters.

"We have to be able to maintain case integrity right now and that's why we have to withhold the person's name," said the Chief, who refused comment on any possible tie to the Bill and Peggy Stephenson murders.

Jennings was actually murdered on March 29, but her body wasn't discovered by a neighbor until a week later on April 5.

The only other new information released Friday was Jennings' cause of death, which was determined during an autopsy at the Hamilton County Coroner's Office.

"She died as a result of multiple skull fractures from blunt force trauma," Fields said.

That was not something that Jennings' son, Ryan Siebe, wanted to hear.

"She was loved by so many people," he said. "Nobody deserves that and especially not her."

Siebe said he wasn't bothered by the fact that police didn't announce an arrest because he said he wanted to make sure they did a good job.

"I'm willing to let them have the time that they need to do it properly," he said.

Watching the police briefing from the back row on Friday were Laura Lesko and Lala Ullrich, long-time friends of Leigh Jennings. They, too, had hoped for charges being filed and were disappointed that they weren't.

In fact, Lesko was the person who first notified police that Stephenson -- known to her as "Steve" -- might be someone that investigators should question.

Lesko said Jennings had known Stephenson for some time after meeting him at Young's Barber Shop in Florence, where Jennings cut hair for many years. They also were friends on Facebook.

"From the information we've heard he was really dominant and she didn't want any so-called relationship with this person," Lesko said. "She just wanted to be friends and I think he wanted more."

Ullrich said "Steve" would visit Jennings on Mondays and Thursdays and she couldn't avoid the fact that police said she was murdered on a Thursday.

"I think that will unfold and the person who did this will be punished," she said.

As Siebe gazed at a picture of his mother outside her house, he said it makes him smile, recalling the advice she gave him while he was growing up.

"I have nothing but great memories," he said. "Even when I get to a point that I'm feeling down about this, I can hear her tell me, 'Get up,' because that's the kind of person that she trained me and my family to be -- strong, get up and move forward. Every time you get knocked down, get up. Move."
 

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