June 29, 2016

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Steven Cepec case could go to jury today

MEDINA — The day after the slaying of Frank Munz, Medina County sheriff’s detectives told Steven Cepec he could face the death penalty.

“I deserve it,” Cepec said.

“Why do you deserve it?” Detective Tadd Davis asked.

Steven Cepec

“Because I killed him,” he said through tears.

A video recording of the exchange was shown to the jury Tuesday in Cepec’s capital murder trial.

Cepec is accused of beating Munz with the claw end of a hammer and strangling him with a lamp cord during a home invasion on June 3, 2010.

The case could go to the jury as early as today.

The prosecution didn’t formally rest its case Tuesday, but county Prosecutor Dean Holman said he didn’t have much else to present.

Common Pleas Judge James L. Kimbler asked Cepec’s attorneys if they had any witnesses or evidence.

“We’re still deciding,” attorney Russell Buzzelli said.

Before letting the jury go home Tuesday, the judge told them to pack an overnight bag for today’s session because it was possible they might begin deliberations after closing arguments.

“We’re going to have to sequester you for the night once the attorneys pass the case to you,” Kimbler said.

The trial is scheduled to resume 8:30 a.m. today.

If the jury convicts Cepec of aggravated murder with death penalty specifications, the trial will enter a penalty phase to determine whether Cepec is sentenced to life in prison or death.

Cepec had been released from prison six days before the killing and was on the run after failing to return to a halfway house, according to earlier testimony.

Earlier testimony also suggested that Frank lent Cepec money, let him use his phone and even gave Cepec a ride to Medina in the days after Cepec’s flight from the halfway house.

Munz’s adult nephew testified last week that he was home at the time of the attack. He said he recognized Cepec’s voice and called 911. Deputies arrived and arrested Cepec after a short chase through nearby woods.

The jury watched the initial police interviews Thursday and Tuesday, which depicted Cepec hours after he was arrested.

During those interrogations, he denied killing Munz, saying that he found Munz’s body and ran away from police because he was in shock.

The next day, Davis said Cepec asked to speak with him.

Cepec said his girlfriend, Michelle Palmer, suggested attacking Munz with a hammer and robbing him. But he said killing Munz was never part of the plan.

In the video recording, Cepec said he and Palmer were in Cleveland visiting her family, and he came back to Medina without her. He said he was staying in Palmer’s father’s barn, just a quarter-mile from Munz’s 5394 Richman Road home.

Shortly after returning, Cepec said he gathered up the hammer, some duct tape and a BB gun that looked like a real pistol before heading to Munz’s house.

“I knocked on the door and said, ‘Hey, Frank, it’s me,’ ” Cepec said. “And he just let me in.”

Cepec said he entered the house and pointed the BB gun at Munz in his kitchen. He said he tied Munz’s hands behind his back with the duct tape, but Munz tried to get his hands free.

“And then I hit him,” he said. “I didn’t mean to hit him with the claw. I meant to hit him with the blunt side. I just wanted to knock him out.”

Cepec said Munz started to struggle. He said Munz grabbed his legs and tried to get up.

“And then I hit him a couple more times with it,” he said, his voice shaking with emotion. “I hit him too hard. It was the wrong end.”

He said when he realized what he did, Cepec told Davis that he tried to help Munz. He said he dropped the hammer and ran to get a towel to soak up the blood. The whole time, he said he kept apologizing.

Cepec said he got the cord because he wanted to tie Munz up with it to make him stop struggling.

But when he got back to the kitchen, Cepec said Munz was starting to get up and was grabbing for the hammer.

In a panic, he said he started strangling Munz instead.

“I just freaked out,” he said.

He said Munz stopped struggling, and he went outside to get some air and calm his nerves.

“When I went back inside, it was too late,” he told the detective.

Cepec said he started looting the house, putting jewelry, jars of change and the weapons in bags by the door. He also said he washed his hands, changed his shirt and put socks on his hands so he wouldn’t leave fingerprints.

Minutes later, the deputies arrived.

Cepec insisted he didn’t mean to kill Munz.

“I didn’t want to die, man,” he told Davis. “I didn’t want him to die.”

The detective said it didn’t matter whether he didn’t mean for it to happen or that his girlfriend came up with the idea.

“You did it,” Davis told him in the video. “Not Michelle.”

Other deputies testified earlier in the trial that Cepec confessed to them as well.

Detective Todd Hicks was among those deputies.

“He said, ‘I did it. I deserve the death penalty,’ ” Hicks testified Feb. 12. “I asked him, ‘Do you want to die?’ and all he said was, ‘Eye for an eye.’ ”

Former sheriff’s Deputy Marie Kriz told the jury Feb. 13 that she heard Cepec confess on June 5, 2010, at a hospital, where he was being treated after ingesting bolts from his jail cell and part of a soap dispenser.

“He said he was sorry he did it and that he killed Mr. Munz,” Kriz said. “And then he said he deserved to die for it.”

She said she heard him say the same thing the next day, too.

Another deputy, Chris Falkenstein, also testified Feb. 13 that he was working on his laptop computer three days after the killing, keeping watch on Cepec at a hospital.

“He asked me if I could look up whether he could volunteer for the death penalty,” Falkenstein told the jury. “He said he wasn’t going to do anything unless he could get the death penalty.”

Cepec’s attorneys filed motions to try to block the jury from hearing testimony about the confessions, but the judge denied those motions on Feb. 4.

Contact reporter Nick Glunt at (330) 721-4048 or nglunt@medina-gazette.com.

Nick Glunt About Nick Glunt

Nick Glunt primarily covers courts and crime in Medina County. He served The Gazette from September 2012 to December 2015. Contact him at (330) 721-4048 or via email at nglunt@medina-gazette.com.