Walton's "Steve" Stephenson tied to Aurora murder probe

Prosecutors say he was last to see victim alive

BURLINGTON, Ky. - Warren Siebe felt a chill travel the length of his spine Wednesday as he sat in the Boone Circuit Courtroom of Judge James Schrand.

The Union man was watching the arraignment of Charles Robert Stephenson, also known as "Steve," on charges of evidence tampering and drug trafficking.  

Siebe's surge of emotion was triggered by a statement from Boone County Commonwealth Attorney Linda Tally Smith as she argued against reducing Stephenson's $50,000 cash bond on the two counts filed against him.

"These charges here in Boone County arose from an investigation which was started in the State of Indiana that involves a woman by the name of Leigh Jennings," she said.  "Mister Stephenson is confirmed to be the last person known to be with Miss Jennings when she was alive."

Aurora Police said Jennings was murdered at her Aspen Ridge Road home on March 29th and that the cause-of-death was multiple skull fractures.  Investigators have said they have a suspect in the case, but haven't publicly named that person of interest.

Siebe is closely tied to the case as well, but in a very different way.  He is Jennings' former husband.  They were married 13 years and have two adult sons, Ryan and Brandon.

"We're not pointing the finger at anyone right now," he said.  "It's just one of them things that we'd like to make sure that charges are filed if they've got the evidence."

According to Siebe, his sons were devastated by Leigh's murder.  That's why he came to court to see Stephenson for himself.

"The boys lost their mother and it wasn't to old age," he said.  "Leigh's mom is handling it better than the two boys and, of course, with me, I've just lost a good friend and we've always remained good friends."

Stephenson's wife and children were also in the courtroom, but declined to comment to reporters before or after the hearing.

The Walton man's arms and legs were shackled for the 10-minute hearing.  The only words he spoke were to give his name, date-of-birth and address.

Public Defender Steve Florian argued that his client's bond is out of line for the charges that have been filed.

"He has absolutely no criminal history.  He's a low risk.  He's lived in this area his entire life," Florian said.  "Basically, he's being held on a lot of allegations that are floating around there.  He's not been named as a suspect in any other charges besides what is before the court here today."

Florian suggested a low cash bond or unsecured third party signature bond -- perhaps even a pre-trial ankle monitor.

Tally Smith countered with the Aurora case information and the fact that Stephenson tried to commit suicide when investigators served a search warrant on the apartment where he was living.

"The Commonweatlh still believes that he's a risk of flight and that he is a danger to himself or other people," she said.

Florian took issue with that statement, saying his client could easily be monitored at the mental health unit of St. Elizabeth Health Care in Florence.

"We believe that would be a much more appropriate placement at this time than jail," he said.

Judge Schrand took the matter under advisement.

Stephenson's troubles with the law could get worse next week.  That's when Tally Smith said a Boone County Grand Jury will hear evidence about possible financial offenses involving hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"It's fraudulent transactions involving investments," she said.

The biggest question that remains unanswered is whether Stephenson is being investigated in connection with the murders of Bill and Peggy Stephenson in Florence nearly a year ago.  He is their nephew.

Investigators have been tight-lipped about the case from the beginning.

"I refuse to make any comment related to that right now," said Tally Smith.  "Obviously, the only connection that I'm prepared to comment on is the fact they share a last name."

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