The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Crime & Courts

March 7, 2014

Second defendant sentenced in Joplin murder; man assessed 15 years in slaying of Jacob Wages

Circuit Judge David Mouton assessed Cody Stephens 15 years in prison Friday for his role in the home-invasion murder of 23-year-old Joplin resident Jacob Wages.

Stephens, 22, pleaded guilty Dec. 6 to second-degree murder and first-degree burglary in a plea deal capping the prison time he might receive at no more than 15 years. But his attorney, Christopher Warden, asked the judge at his sentencing hearing in Jasper County Circuit Court to consider granting probation instead, with placement in a community-based program such as Lazarus House, or a 10-year sentence at most.

Stephens is one of five co-defendants in the July 6, 2012, slaying of Wages inside his home on South Pearl Avenue in Joplin. Four have been convicted of second-degree murder and related counts, with the case against the fifth co-defendant, Johnathan Taylor, still pending in Jasper County Circuit Court.

Marcus Stephens, 18, no relation to Cody Stephens and the only other co-defendant to have been sentenced as yet, also received a 15-year prison term. The jury that convicted Daniel Hartman, the shooter in the case, recommended that he receive two life sentences with the possibility of parole and a 15-year term. He will be formally sentenced March 31.

Warden pointed out to the court that his client cooperated with police early on in the investigation of the murder, accompanying officers on two walk-throughs of the crime scene. Stephens also testified as a state witness at Hartman’s trial, a requirement of his plea agreement.

Two ministers testified that Stephens has become a Christian while in jail, is genuinely remorseful and wishes to dedicate his life to helping troubled teens.

Diana Wages, the victim’s stepmother, told the judge before witnesses were being called for the defense that she thought Stephens needed to be held responsible and should receive the maximum time called for by his plea agreement.

“He chose to be there and he even chose to go back to Jake’s house,” she told the judge, referring to a return trip some of the co-defendants made to the victim’s home after he was shot.

According to testimony at Hartman’s trial, they returned to get a lockbox they believed contained a stash of Ecstasy pills and cash. When they eventually opened the box, they found nothing but a burnt marijuana cigarette stub and some scales.

Stephens apologized to Diana Wages when it became his turn to speak at the hearing.

“I wish I’d had the courage to say no to that,” he told her. “I wish I’d had the courage to stop them. But I was scared myself.”

He said he has prayed every day for 19 months for her forgiveness and that of other members of the victim’s family. He said there have been nights when he cannot sleep because of the emotional turmoil he feels about the crime. He said he longs for the Wages family’s forgiveness.

“I know one day God will put it on your heart to forgive me because that’s what he does for people,” Stephens told Diana Wages.

Norman Rouse, assistant prosecutor, told the court that he hopes the defendant’s remorse and desire to help others is sincere but suggested Stephens still needs to take his punishment. He said the plea offer of 15 years was fair and asked the judge to stick to it. Mouton also assessed the defendant a concurrent term of five years for first-degree burglary.

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