MEDINA — A Medina County jury found Steven Cepec guilty Friday of capital murder. His fate will be decided in a penalty phase of the trial beginning March 4, in which his lawyers will try to convince the jury to recommend Cepec, 43, be sentenced to life in prison rather than death.
Cepec was convicted of killing 73-year-old Frank Munz by beating him with the claw end of a hammer and strangling him with a lamp cord during a June 3, 2010, home invasion.
Cepec was on the run at the time after failing to return to a halfway house on May 28 — the same day he was released from prison where he served time for violating parole.
The jury can recommend the death penalty, life without the possibility of parole or life with parole eligibility after 25 or 30 years.
If sentenced to death, Cepec would be the only Medina County resident on Ohio’s death row.
Cepec was found guilty of three counts of aggravated murder, two counts of murder, a count of aggravated robbery and a count of aggravated burglary.
Common Pleas Judge James L. Kimbler continued to bar prosecutors and defense attorneys from talking to reporters about the case.
County Prosecutor Dean Holman managed to deliver a message indirectly.
“I’m satisfied with the verdict,” he said. “Aren’t you, Mr. Razavi?”
“Very satisfied,” county Assistant Prosecutor Matt Razavi said.
Defense attorney Kerry O’Brien also had something to say — to his client.
O’Brien was heard telling Cepec that the jury did not convict him on the first of four counts of aggravated murder — the only count accusing him of planning to kill Munz when he went to his house that day.
“That means they don’t think you intended to do it,” he said.
In his closing arguments Thursday, Holman said Cepec didn’t need much time to decide to kill Munz.
“Somewhere between the first blow and the fourth blow and the strangulation, he did,” he said.
Cepec’s attorneys did not call any witnesses or introduce any evidence at the trial.
In closing arguments Thursday, O’Brien conceded that Cepec killed Munz, but argued that his client only planned to rob and not kill.
“He is a human being: He has frailties,” O’Brien said. “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?”
Cepec confessed to killing Munz in an interrogation that was played for the jury Tuesday.
He said he struck 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 said he panicked and hit him three more times.
Cepec told former sheriff’s Detective Tadd Davis in the video that 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.”
Davis told the jury Thursday that he didn’t believe Cepec was actually remorseful. He said Cepec’s voice got shaky and emotional during the interrogation, but he never shed tears.
O’Brien and Cepec’s other attorney, Russell Buzzelli, filed pretrial motions to block the jury from hearing the confessions. The judge denied the motions Feb. 4, the first day of jury selection. The motions were one of several reasons the case took so long to get to trial.
Prosecutors presented about three dozen witnesses and hundreds of exhibits of evidence — including photos, DNA analyses, weapons, clothes and valuables found at Munz’s 5394 Richman Road home.
The jury deliberated about 10 hours before reaching a verdict in a case that began almost three years ago.
The assistant prosecutor stressed how long it had taken to bring Cepec to trial.
“It’s been about two years and nine months,” Razavi said. “It’s time Steve Cepec is held accountable for the crimes he committed that day.”
THE WINDING LEGAL ROAD
May 28: Steven Cepec released from prison after a parole violation to a halfway house based on a sanction recommendation from a parole officer. Cepec complained of medical problems and left the halfway house hours after arriving. He did not receive permission from corrections officers to leave.
May 29: The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction released a “be on the lookout” notice for Cepec to police agencies.
June 1: Cepec borrowed money from Frank Munz, his nephew later testified.
June 3: Munz was killed in an apparent home invasion.
A man was seen fleeing from the residence, and after a brief chase, Cepec was apprehended in the woods behind Munz’s property.
June 4: Cepec confessed for the first time to a sheriff’s detective to killing Munz. In the coming days, he would confess four more times to deputies.
June 5: Cepec was admitted to a hospital for swallowing bolts while in the Medina County Jail for several days on a parole violation. Cepec was placed in isolation shortly thereafter for observation before being transferred to the Lorain County Jail.
June 9: Cepec was taken to the Correctional Reception Center in Orient, which is near Columbus, to serve a three-year sentence for a parole violation.
Nov. 24: In a secret indictment, a Medina County grand jury charged Cepec with four counts of aggravated murder, two counts of murder and two counts of aggravated robbery.
Dec. 23: Cepec pleaded not guilty to four counts of aggravated murder, two counts of murder and two counts of aggravated robbery.
Dec. 30: Cepec’s attorneys filed a motion to plead not guilty by reason of insanity. A judge ordered a test to determine whether Cepec was competent to stand trial. Cepec’s attorneys requested a second competency test.
May 19: A hearing regarding more than 30 motions for Cepec was continued because reports on his sanity and competency were not complete. The motions ranged from a request to allow Cepec to appear at all proceedings without restraints to suppressing statements allegedly obtained in violation of Cepec’s constitutional rights. Cepec’s trial was slated to begin in July, but the county prosecutor and the defense agreed to push the trial back to the fall.
March 29: Cepec’s attorneys filed a motion for suppression to block the jury from hearing about Cepec’s confessions.
Sept. 4: Cepec’s attorneys filed another motion for suppression to block the jury from hearing about Cepec’s confessions.
Oct. 15: Cepec was scheduled to go on trial in the death of Munz at 9 a.m., his sixth trial date.
Jan. 8: The prosecutor filed a 14-page brief saying Cepec confessed to officers that he killed Munz at least five times shortly after his arrest. In his Jan. 8 decision, a judge said Miranda warnings only apply to interrogations.
Feb. 4: Jury selection began for Cepec’s trial.
Feb. 5: A judge ruled that Cepec’s multiple confessions that he killed Munz are admissible at his capital murder trial.
Feb. 6: A judge issued a gag order after a Gazette reporter asked the prosecutor about the possibility of a plea bargain.
Feb. 11: Testimony began in Cepec’s trial.
Feb. 22: Jury finds Cepec guilty of three counts of aggravated murder, two counts of murder, a count of aggravated robbery and a count of aggravated burglary.
March 4: Penalty phase of Cepec’s trial scheduled for this day. Jury could recommend the death penalty, life without the possibility of parole or life with parole eligibility after 25 or 30 years.
Contact reporter Nick Glunt at (330) 721-4048 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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