Walton man heads to Indiana to face Aurora murder charge

Charles "Steve" Stephenson waives extradition

BURLINGTON, Ky. - Walton's Charles "Steve" Stephenson was transported from Kentucky to Indiana on Thursday to face charges that he murdered and robbed an Aurora woman in March.

Stephenson agreed to waive extradition on Friday and the deal was sealed Wednesday during a pre-trial hearing at Boone Circuit Court. He will now appear in Dearborn County court at 3:30 p.m. Thursday.

The proceeding had been scheduled to deal with a pair of Kentucky charges against Stephenson -- tampering with evidence drug trafficking.  However, those were put on hold.

That's because he was formally accused last week of brutally beating Leigh Jennings at her Aspen Ridge Drive home on March 29 and stealing $1,000 from cash she kept in a safe to repay a debt to one of his family members.

"What he wants to do is go address those charges first," Public Defender Steve Florian told Judge James Schrand. "All parties are in agreement that he is to be released on this case so he can go address those."

Boone County Commonwealth Attorney Linda Tally Smith met with Indiana officials on Monday to iron out the details of the transfer.  Stephenson's $50,000 cash bond was amended to allow the move. Tally Smith said once the Indiana case is completed, he'll be returned to Kentucky to face the commonwealth's accusations.

The evidence tampering charge is directly related to the Jennings murder.  

Dearborn County Prosecutor Aaron Negangard said Stephenson tried to remove blood stains from his car when he was living on Old Stephenson Mill Road in Walton.

"The discovery in our case is obviously intertwined with theirs," said Tally Smith.  "We thought that it would be easiest to allow him to go back there and finish those charges before we dealt with ours."

Judge Schrand set an Aug. 29 hearing to review the status of the case.

Tally Smith said at some point in the future a Boone County Grand Jury will consider evidence that Stephenson may have been involved in financial fraud."

Dearborn County Prosecutor Aaron Negangard said he didn't learn until Wednesday that Stephenson had waived his extradition.

"That's a choice he made with him and his attorney," he said.

Stephenson will have a lawyer appointed for him in Indiana to handle the murder and robbery charges.

The question remains whether Negangard will seek the death penalty in the case if Stephenson is convicted or seek a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

"There are a number of factors that go into the decision that's one of the most serious decisions that a prosecutor makes," he said.  "We're not going to make that prematurely."

When Negangard announced the Indiana charges against Stephenson last week, he said the probable motive for the murder was money and that the alleged murder weapons were a large pepper grinder and a cast iron frying pan.

However, some in the legal community wonder if that amounts to releasing too much information early on in the legal process?

Negangard firmly said, "No!"

"When you work for the state, you provide everything you have to the defendant so that they are not surprised," he said.  "Our only obligation is to the truth.  We're going to present the facts -- good or bad -- whatever they may be -- at the appropriate time."

When the case goes to trial, Negangard said he hopes the jury will return a guilty verdict.

"The evidence strongly suggests it was a particularly violent crime," he said.  "Any time that happens in your community, it's disturbing," and you want to see that justice is done."

Aurora Police Chief Bryan Bryan Fields, whose detectives did much of the investigative work that led to the criminal charges, said he welcomed Stephenson's extradition.

"This starts the legal process against him and hopefully justice will be done," he said.

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