Jonathan Stephenson was sentenced to death by the State of Tennessee for hiring someone to murder his wife. According to court documents Jonathan Stephenson would hire Ralph Thompson to kill his wife. The woman, Lisa Stephenson would be shot and killed by a high powered rifle. The two men would later debate who actually fired the fatal shot however both would be convicted and Jonathan Stephenson would be sentenced to death.
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t the resentencing hearing, the State presented proof showing that in December 1989, the defendant was married to Mrs. Stephenson and had a four-year-old son and an eight-month-old son. The defendant worked as a tractor-trailer driver in Morristown, Tennessee. In March 1989, the defendant met Julia Ann Webb (“Webb”) at a bar in Knoxville, Tennessee, and the two became romantically involved. The defendant told Webb that his wife had been killed in a traffic accident five years earlier and that afterwards he had an affair with his wife’s sister, “Kathy.” He also told Webb that he had a child with each woman.
In 1989, on numerous occasions, the defendant asked Glen Franklin Brewer (“Brewer”), a co-worker, to kill the wife of a friend. However, the description of the residence of the proposed victim matched the defendant’s own home. On one occasion the defendant offered Brewer a boat, a motor, and a pickup truck in return for the requested killing. On another occasion the defendant offered Brewer $3,000.00 in return for the killing, and on yet another occasion, the defendant offered Brewer $5,000.00 from life insurance proceeds. The defendant complained to Brewer that his wife was receiving expensive psychiatric treatment and medication and that he feared he would “lose everything he had worked for” if he divorced her. In the fall of 1989, the defendant offered another man, Steven Michael Litz (“Litz”), who was a friend of Thompson, $5,000.00 to kill the defendant’s wife because, the defendant said, she was going to divorce him and “take everything he’d ever worked for.”
On the evening of December 3, 1989, the defendant and Thompson took Thompson’s 30/30 rifle and went to the home of Dave Robertson (“Robertson”), the defendant’s employer, at around 7:30 p.m. After instructing Robertson to tell anyone who asked that he and Thompson had been at Robertson’s house until 9:45 p.m., the defendant left with Thompson. The two men drove to an isolated area in Cocke County, Tennessee, near the home of Thompson’s uncle. Thompson had previously suggested that location as an out-of-the-way place where the defendant could “get rid of” Mrs. Stephenson. Mrs. Stephenson was lured to the remote location to pick up money for the defendant that was supposedly owed to him for “running” drugs. Thompson and the defendant waited there until Mrs. Stephenson arrived. As she sat in her vehicle, Mrs. Stephenson was shot at close range through the car’s windshield. The bullet struck Mrs. Stephenson in the forehead and caused massive head injuries. The defendant told law enforcement officers that Thompson shot the victim, and the State’s evidence showed that the defendant had offered to give Thompson a truck, a boat, and a motor for killing the victim. Thompson, however, testified that the defendant shot Mrs. Stephenson. Thompson added that, at the defendant’s insistence, he also fired the rifle. The two then drove to the defendant’s place of work, and the defendant subsequently headed to Ohio in an eighteen-wheeler truck. When Thompson asked about the defendant’s children, the defendant told him that they would be all right because his father-in-law would check on them.
On his way out of the state, the defendant met Webb in Harrogate, Tennessee. He informed Webb that “Kathy” had just been killed by some people to whom she owed money. He explained that he and Thompson had gone to the scene of the killing where “Kathy” was found dead. The defendant and Thompson fought there with two men who had killed “Kathy,” and they thought that the men were dead. The defendant said that he had not contacted the police because the police were in league with the killers. He told Webb that his children were with “Kathy’s” father 3 and commented, “I didn’t love her but I’m going to miss the Bitch.” Webb recalled that she was with the defendant the weekend prior to Mrs. Stephenson’s murder and that at that time the defendant purchased ammunition for a rifle at a K-Mart store.
After meeting with Webb, the defendant drove his truck to Ohio. Upon the discovery of his wife’s body, the defendant was called back to Tennessee for questioning. The defendant initially denied involvement in his wife’s murder. After Thompson and Robertson implicated him in Mrs. Stephenson’s death, the defendant confessed to having Thompson kill her. At the time of Mrs. Stephenson’s death, the defendant was the beneficiary of a $5,000.00 life insurance policy covering his wife. The defendant’s sons, who were teenagers by the time of the resentencing hearing, were adopted by Mrs. Stephenson’s parents and had no contact with their father, who, according to his former father-in-law, had never shown any remorse for the killing. At a separate trial, Thompson was convicted of first degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison.
In mitigation, the defendant presented evidence concerning his family history, psychological condition, and life in prison. Testimony from the defendant’s parents and his younger brother painted a picture of a relatively normal childhood, although the defendant’s mother testified that the defendant had suffered some emotional problems and was once hospitalized after attempting suicide. The defendant, the second of three sons, was described as “a regular kid” and as “a typical teenager” with a good sense of humor, who was quick-witted and more interested in sports than school. Because of his father’s career as an officer in the United States Air Force, the family moved often. The defendant’s mother worked outside the home. The defendant’s brother testified about how the defendant had “raised” him while their mother and father worked. After twenty years of marriage, the defendant’s parents divorced. Upset over the divorce, the defendant left his home in Anchorage, Alaska, as soon as he graduated from high school and went to live with his grandparents in Morristown and Newport, Tennessee. Prior to his convictions in this case, the defendant had no criminal record.
Dr. Eric S. Engum, a clinical psychologist specializing in clinical neuropsychology and forensic psychology, testified that he performed a two-day comprehensive evaluation of the defendant. Dr. Engum described the defendant as alert, responsive, articulate, and much more intelligent than the average convict. Despite a past history of Attention Deficit Disorder and a potential learning disability, the defendant had a comprehensive I.Q. of 118, a verbal I.Q. of 121, and a performance I.Q. of 111. According to Dr. Engum, the defendant falls into the “bright normal if not superior range of intellectual functioning,” and an achievement test showed that he performs at above the high school graduate level in basic academic skills. Dr. Engum found no evidence of brain damage. The defendant’s attention and concentration were good, and he performed above average on neuropsychological tests administered during the evaluation. Dr. Engum testified that the defendant suffers from a significant level of depression but that he “masks” his condition. According to Dr. Engum, the defendant, who has a passive-aggressive personality, is resigned, withdrawn, and feels helpless. Nevertheless, the defendant’s psychological difficulties do not interfere with his ability to perform his assigned tasks in prison, where he functions well. Dr. Engum diagnosed the defendant as suffering from a depressive disorder not otherwise specified and from a personality disorder not otherwise specified with schizoid, depressive, and avoidant features. Dr. Engum opined that prisoners with the defendant’s psychological traits do not have major problems while incarcerated and generally are not recidivists.
Dr. Engum and other witnesses, including members of the defendant’s family, correctional employees, and church workers, testified about the defendant’s life at the Northeastern Correctional Center in Mountain City. The defendant served as a clerk in the law library, completed a program in paralegal studies and training in construction work, was an inmate advisor for the disciplinary board, spoke with troubled juveniles, participated in religious programs, was ordained as a minister, and played bass guitar in a multi-racial gospel band. He was described as a good inmate, an asset to the prison, “the cream of the crop,” and “a good individual.” Questioning by the State revealed that the defendant had several disciplinary reports prior to coming to the Northeastern Correctional Center but that he had only one minor disciplinary problem since then. His family members and church workers testified about the high esteem in which the defendant was held by the other prisoners and their families. The defendant’s family testified that he had changed after coming to Northeastern Correctional Center. His mother described him as “very bitter and very angry” when he went to prison but said that he was now a different person: kind, thoughtful, hopeful, and caring. The defendant’s father testified that Mrs. Stephenson’s father will not allow the defendant’s parents to see their two grandsons and that, although the defendant has asked his father to contact his sons for him, the defendant’s former father-in-law obstructs any communication with the boys. In response to the State’s questions, witnesses admitted that the defendant had never expressed remorse for killing his wife.
Based on this proof, the jury found that the State had proven beyond a reasonable doubt one aggravating circumstance, that the defendant committed the murder for remuneration or the promise of remuneration or employed another to commit the murder for remuneration or the promise of remuneration. Tenn.Code Ann. § 39-13-204(i)(4) (1989). In addition, the jury found that the State had proven that this aggravating circumstance outweighed any mitigating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt. As a result, the jury sentenced the defendant to death for the first degree murder. The trial court ordered that the death sentence and the sixty-year sentence for conspiracy to commit the first degree murder run consecutively.4