MEDINA — Steven Cepec’s attorneys admitted Cepec killed Frank Munz, but asked the jury Thursday not to recommend the death penalty.
“This is a case of murder, not aggravated murder,” attorney Kerry O’Brien said during his closing arguments.
“It’s a lot about semantics.”
O’Brien admitted Cepec, 43, was at 73-year-old Munz’s home at 5394 Richman Road in Chatham Township to rob him on June 3, 2010, but didn’t intend to kill him.
“It happened as the result of a spontaneous eruption,” O’Brien said.
The jury began deliberating Cepec’s fate Thursday. They were released about 6:30 p.m. and will resume deliberations today at 8:30 a.m.
If Cepec is convicted of aggravated murder, his trial could enter a penalty phase in which the jury would decide whether to recommend death.
Cepec also is charged with aggravated robbery and aggravated burglary.
He is accused of beating Munz with the claw end of a hammer and strangling him to death with a lamp cord. At the time, Cepec was on the run after failing to return to a halfway house six days earlier — the same day he was released from prison.
On Wednesday, Cepec’s defense attorneys declined to present any evidence, and on Thursday during his closing arguments, O’Brien appealed to the jurors for sympathy.
“He is a human being: He has frailties,” O’Brien said of Cepec. “He was so addicted to drugs that he was a desperate man. He went over there to burglarize and to rob someone he knew. Does that sound like a scheme to kill?”
In a confession played for the jury Tuesday, Cepec told former Medina County sheriff’s Detective Tadd Davis that he went to Munz’s home to rob him.
He said he hit Munz with the hammer to knock him out, but accidentally hit him with the claw end instead of the blunt side. When Munz struggled, he panicked and hit him three more times.
Cepec told the detective he got a lamp cord to restrain Munz, but ended up using it to strangle him because Munz tried to fight back.
“I didn’t want him to die, man,” Cepec said. “I just freaked out.”
In his closing arguments, county Prosecutor Dean Holman asked why Cepec would beat Munz four times if he didn’t mean to kill him.
“If you don’t believe he intended to kill Frank, somewhere between the first blow and the fourth blow and the strangulation, he did,” Holman said.
County Assistant Prosecutor Matt Razavi stressed that point in his closing arguments.
“Mr. O’Brien wants you to feel sympathy for Mr. Cepec,” Razavi said.
“Even if you do feel sympathy, that doesn’t negate the elements of this case.”
He added: “There is so much abundant purpose in this case, ladies and gentlemen. It takes two to four minutes to strangle someone. There’s a lot of purpose in that.”
Cepec is charged with four aggravated murder counts, each with four death penalty specifications.
The specifications accuse him of killing Munz while on probation, while committing aggravated burglary, while committing aggravated robbery and while committing a kidnapping.
He also is charged with two counts of murder, which accuse him of purposely causing Munz’s death and doing so while committing another felony.
His robbery and burglary charges are aggravated because he was on probation at the time.
Cepec’s trial began Feb. 11. The jury has heard from more than three dozen witnesses, who said Cepec’s DNA was found at the scene and that he at first denied involvement. Sheriff’s deputies testified Cepec confessed at least five times that he killed Munz.
Razavi advised the jurors to use common sense and reason to reach their verdict.
“It’s been about two years and nine months,” he said. “It’s time Steve Cepec is held accountable for the crimes he committed that day.”
Contact reporter Nick Glunt at (330) 721-4048 or firstname.lastname@example.org.