The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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February 3, 2014

Prison term assessed in Joplin murder case

JOPLIN, Mo. — Marcus Stephens on Monday became the first of five co-defendants charged with the murder of Joplin resident Jacob Wages to be formally sentenced, drawing 15 years for his role in the crime.

Circuit Judge David Dally assessed the 18-year-old defendant from Tulsa, Okla., concurrent terms of 15 years for second-degree murder and five years for burglary at a sentencing hearing in Jasper County Circuit Court.

“I’ve had a rough life,” Stephens told the judge before being sentenced at the hearing. “The streets is all I’ve known.”

His attorney, Erica Mynarich, argued for a prison term of no more than 10 years, considering the youth of her client and the disadvantages he faced growing up.

A psychiatrist with the Missouri Department of Mental Health who evaluated Stephens testified that he came from “an environment marked by violence” with a family history involving “multiple traumas.” His father served prison time on murder and drug charges, and his mother also had been incarcerated briefly.

The doctor said Stephens, identified during previous court proceedings as a member of a Crips gang in Tulsa, had a close friend who was killed and has been forced to live with an awareness that there are those in his community who have been looking to kill him as well. She said he has received a spotty education at best, having been in and out of 12 schools.

The psychiatrist diagnosed Stephens as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. His emotional development has been delayed, he remains socially detached from others, and he believes he will have a shortened future because of the dangers of living on the streets, she said.

Both Stephens and co-defendant Elijah Taylor were 16 years old when Wages, 23, was murdered on July 6, 2012, but they were certified to stand trial as adults.

Stephens accepted a plea offer in November that capped the prison time that he might receive at no more than 15 years. Taylor and another co-defendant, Cody Stephens, 22, no relation, took the same plea offer in exchange for their testimonies last week at the trial of Daniel Hartman, 18, the presumed shooter in the case.

Hartman was convicted of second-degree murder, armed criminal action and burglary in a three-day trial that ended Thursday with jurors recommending that he receive two life sentences and a 15-year term. He will be formally sentenced at a later date.

Marcus Stephens was called as a witness for the defense at the trial, even though his testimony, like that of prosecution witnesses Cody Stephens and Taylor, put Hartman at the scene of the slaying and in possession of a handgun.

Unlike the other two, Marcus Stephens denied that any of the co-defendants were using “mollies,” a form of Ecstasy, the night in question. The others testified that some of them had been doing the drug, and that they were looking to steal a stash of the pills and $5,000 in cash from Wages. But Stephens told the court that he was under the impression that they were just trying to score some marijuana.

He testified that Cody Stephens kicked in the victim’s back door. He also said both Hartman and Taylor were carrying guns, an assertion that Taylor denied. Marcus Stephens acknowledged that when they entered Wages’ bedroom, he grabbed the victim’s assault rifle and fled with the weapon after “six or seven shots” were fired by the others. He told the court that he later sold the rifle to a cousin of Taylor’s.

Police found evidence of just three shots having been fired, one of which struck Wages in the chest.

On cross-examination Monday by Assistant Prosecutor Theresa Kenney, the doctor testified that Stephens’ criminal record showed a pattern of increasingly violent offenses and that the pattern was likely to persist without significant “trauma-based intervention.”

Wages’ father and stepmother did not request any particular length of sentence in the victim-impact statements they made in court.

Tim Wages said that despite the difficulties the defendant faced growing up in Tulsa, he believes Stephens knows right from wrong. “Although he may not have been the one to take my son’s life, he was involved in the robbery,” he said. And when the shots were fired, he fled, Wages said.

Diane Wages said that as a social worker and member of a local drug court team, she has worked with young offenders, and is familiar with post-traumatic stress disorder and other difficulties attendant on a poor home environment. But there comes a time when everyone must take responsibility for his own actions, she said.

“You have had a rough life,” she told Stephens. “But only you can change that. You have to change that.”

Rap verse

MARCUS STEPHENS testified at Daniel Hartman’s trial last week that he saw Hartman in possession of a black handgun with a gold trigger at co-defendant Johnathan Taylor’s apartment both before and after the home-invasion shooting of Jacob Wages. Stephens said Hartman later composed a short rap verse about the crime, mocking how the victim raised his hands in the air just before Hartman shot him.

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