MEDINA — In 2010, Steven Cepec told sheriff’s deputies he deserved to die for beating and strangling a 73-year-old man to death in his Chatham Township home.
On Wednesday, Cepec pleaded with a Medina County common pleas jury to spare his life.
The same jury found Cepec guilty last month of aggravated murder, aggravated burglary and aggravated robbery in the slaying of Frank Munz, of 5394 Richman Road.
In the penalty phase of the trial, which began Monday, the jury will compare mitigating factors, such as Cepec’s childhood and mental disorders, and aggravated circumstances of the killing.
Police said Cepec, 43, beat Munz with the claw end of a hammer and strangled him with a lamp cord during a home invasion on June 3, 2010 — six days after the Ohio Parole Board released him from prison.
The jury, which began deliberating Wednesday, can recommend Cepec be sentenced to death, life in prison without parole or with parole eligibility at 25 or 30 years.
The ultimate decision will be up to Common Pleas Judge James L. Kimbler, but the judge may not impose a more severe penalty than the one the jury recommends.
Cepec was the last witness. Ohio law allows defendants in death-penalty cases to address the jury directly, without being sworn in or cross-examined.
On the stand, Cepec admitted he killed Munz, but said he was sorry and asked the jury to show mercy.
“It haunts me, over and over,” Cepec said. “I get nightmares of this when I sleep. I see his face.”
During the trial last month, sheriff’s deputies told the jury that Cepec confessed to killing Munz at least four times and said he deserved the death penalty for his actions.
Before deliberations began, the judge instructed the jury not to consider that Cepec said he deserved to die.
“I’ve been in suicide cells for two years. I wanted to die, but I was a coward,” Cepec testified. “I am so sorry. I just hope that I remain with my life.”
In closing arguments, county Assistant Prosecutor Matt Razavi argued Cepec was not sincere in saying he was sorry he killed Munz.
“Mr. Cepec is an accomplished, manipulative storyteller,” he said.
Razavi told the jurors they should look solely at the law.
“According to Ohio law, if the aggravated circumstances outweigh the mitigating factors in the least, you must impose the death penalty,” Razavi said.
Earlier in the penalty phase, Cepec’s attorneys called family members to testify about Cepec’s traumatic childhood in a broken family. They said he was raised primarily by his grandparents, who were abusive toward one another.
They also called psychologists, who testified that Cepec suffered from at least five mental health problems: antisocial and borderline personality disorders, attention deficit disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and major depressive disorder.
The psychologists said these disorders make Cepec unstable, impulsive, manipulative and sociopathic.
During closing arguments, defense attorney Kerry O’Brien said Cepec doesn’t deserve the death penalty.
“He’s not some worthless human being who should be executed and thrown away,” O’Brien said. “Steve Cepec is a very, very imperfect human being, but he’s still a human being.”
O’Brien pushed Cepec’s contrition, saying the death penalty should be given only to “the worst of the worst.”
In his closing comments, county Prosecutor Dean Holman told jurors that Ohio law doesn’t reserve the death penalty only for the “worst of the worst.”
“He knew what he was doing,” Holman said. “He did not act impulsively.”
The jury was expected to resume deliberations this morning.
Contact reporter Nick Glunt at (330) 721-4048 or firstname.lastname@example.org.