MEDINA — Convicted murderer Steven Cepec’s attorneys marshaled several psychologists and family members to urge the jury not to send him to death row Monday, the first day of his trial’s penalty phase.
Cepec, 43, was found guilty Feb. 22 of the aggravated murder of Frank Munz, 73, who was beaten with the claw-end of a hammer and strangled with a lamp cord during a home invasion June 3, 2010 — six days after Cepec was paroled from prison.
During this phase of the trial, jurors will decide whether to recommend Cepec for death, life in prison without parole or life with parole eligibility at 25 or 30 years.
The jury’s recommendation will serve as a maximum possible sentence. A three-judge panel that includes Medina County Common Pleas Judge James L. Kimbler will make the final decision.
Most of Monday was spent hearing from psychologists.
One of them was Bruce Maaser of the Orient Correctional Institute near Columbus, where Cepec was sent for violating parole after Munz’s death.
Maaser said Cepec was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and major depressive disorder. He said Cepec was experiencing flashbacks and nightmares from killing Munz and was remorseful.
“It wasn’t just because he was in prison,” Maaser told the jury. “I think he definitely had empathy for his victim. I don’t believe he presents any harm to anybody else.”
County Prosecutor Dean Holman countered by pointing out that Cepec was involved in fights in prison and shanks made from pencils were found in his cell.
Cepec eventually was transferred to Warren Correctional Institution in southwest Ohio, where he saw psychiatrist Dr. Sagi Raju and clinical psychologist Mujgan Inciler.
Raju and Inciler told the jury Cepec also had antisocial and borderline personality disorders, meaning he was unstable, impulsive, manipulative and sociopathic.
The defense attorneys said Cepec’s mental disorders stem back to his childhood, when teachers found him problematic in the third and fourth grades.
Terry Shuman, Cepec’s elementary school psychiatrist, said Cepec appeared to suffer from attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Shuman said the disorder was made worse by Cepec’s drug use, which began when he was about 14 years old.
The defense also called Cepec’s uncle, Rickey Cepec, 51, and his half-brother, Shaun Cepec, 33. Both testified that Cepec’s grandfather regularly abused his grandmother, and that Cepec had a drug problem that started when he was in middle school.
Rickey Cepec said his nephew looked up to his grandparents more than his parents.
Under cross-examination, Rickey Cepec acknowledged that Cepec’s half-brothers never got into trouble.
During opening arguments, defense attorney Russell Buzzelli said Cepec’s unhappy childhood led to Munz’s murder and that he shouldn’t be punished with death for that.
“What you’ll hear is that Steve Cepec never had a real chance,” he said.
The prosecution declined to present additional evidence beyond what was provided in Cepec’s 2½-week trial in February.
During his opening arguments, Holman said he hoped the jury would decide Cepec’s childhood and mental disorders didn’t outweigh his actions.
Cepec’s penalty phase is scheduled to continue today at 8:30 a.m.
Contact reporter Nick Glunt at (330) 721-4048 or firstname.lastname@example.org.