Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Murder suspect sentenced to life in prison

Murder suspect sentenced to life in prison

By John Stevenson, The Herald-Sun
February 9, 2006 8:12 pm

DURHAM -- Shelton Deangelo Epps was sentenced Thursday to life in prison without parole for what the judge called a "sickeningly opportunistic and atrocious" crime: The February 2004 shooting, beating and drowning death of a Franklinton man whose car was stolen.

Epps received an additional six- to eight-year prison term for kidnapping the victim, 23-year-old Sean Ethan Owen.

Jurors deliberated about 2 1/2 hours in Durham County Superior Court on Wednesday before finding Epps guilty of the homicide and kidnapping, and also of stealing Owen's car at gunpoint.

"Mr. Epps, the jury has spoken," Judge Michael Morgan told the convicted man Thursday.

The judge said it was tragic to send Epps, who was 21 at the time of the crimes, to prison for the rest of his days.

"But Mr. Epps, you're still alive," he added. "Mr. Owen is dead."

Evidence in Epps' nine-day trial indicated that he and two others lured Owen from Franklinton to Durham through a gay chat line, promising him homosexual sex but intending all along to take his car.

Owen was shot twice in the head, beaten and thrown into the Eno River at Old Farm City Park to drown.

"But for the aggressive assaults of [Epps], Sean Owen would perhaps still be alive," prosecutor Tracey Cline argued Thursday. "I believe he was the most aggressive as relates to the assaults on the victim."

A codefendant in the case, former Northern High School junior varsity football player Matthew Lawrence Taylor, was convicted of first-degree murder and related crimes last year and -- like Epps -- was sentenced to life in prison without parole plus six to eight years.

The third suspect, Derrick Arness Maiden Jr., was given a plea bargain for the reduced charge of second-degree murder in exchange for testimony against Epps and Taylor. He told jurors that Epps was the triggerman, although Epps said in his confession it was Taylor.

Maiden was sentenced Thursday to nine to almost 12 years in prison.

Prosecutor Cline said that Maiden, unlike many criminal defendants, came from a good, middle-class, hard-working family that sent him to school every day and "tried to raise him right."

However, he became involved with a bad crowd and didn't anticipate that things might get out of hand, according to Cline.

"Teenagers need to be careful when they think they're only getting involved in minor crime," she said. "In this case, Derrick Maiden thought he was just going to participate in a robbery. It turned out to be a murder. It messed up his whole life."

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