Wife Who Killed Husband With Baseball Bat Prevented From Claiming Acting In “Passion Fire”


A woman in central Pennsylvania who pleaded guilty to beating her husband to death with a baseball bat was rightly barred from claiming she acted “in the heat of passion” because ‘she believed he was unfaithful to her, a state Superior Court panel ruled.

The ruling solidifies a deal Deborah Ann Stephens made with Adams County prosecutors when she pleaded guilty to third degree murder to the murder of her partner James in September 2018 at their York Springs home.

Deborah Stephens, 66, is serving a sentence of 20 to 40 years in prison – a de facto life sentence – for the murder.

Deborah Stephens

His case has several weird twists. The first of these is the fact that James Stephens predicted how he was murdered.

As Judge Anne E. Lazarus noted in the state court notice, nine days before his death, James texted the couple’s son to tell him that Deborah had threatened to hit him in the head with a bat 20 times. She actually hit him with the bat 36 times, state police said.

Another unusual facet of the case is the role that the Superior Court has been called upon to play. The usual arguments about the effectiveness of the defense lawyer or the severity of the sentence were not asked to arbitrate. Instead, state judges were only called in to decide whether Deborah Stephens could use her finding that her husband was cheating on her as a “passion” defense.

Deborah Stephens pleaded guilty – she didn’t have a sentencing agreement – after County Judge Thomas Campbell essentially barred her from using that defense. He forbade her to present evidence of the alleged infidelity at trial. Campbell agreed with prosecutors that Deborah Stephens couldn’t say she was overcome with sudden angry anger when she killed her husband because she learned of her alleged infidelity months before the murder.

On appeal in state court, Deborah Stephens sought to reopen the possibility of such a defense. Lazare silenced this idea.

The state judge agreed with Campbell’s conclusion that the time that elapsed between Deborah Stephens’ alleged discovery of infidelity and her husband’s murder precluded a passionate defense, especially since there was no evidence that James Stephens had provoked his wife. before she kills him.

The Superior Court ruling is expected to end the case since prosecutors and Deborah Stephens had agreed that she would be allowed to withdraw her guilty plea and go to trial only if state judges overturned Campbell to forbid him to use evidence of infidelity in his defense. .

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