Anne Arundel jury starts deliberations in slaying of prison guard

Jury deliberations began Wednesday in the death-penalty trial of a convicted murderer charged with killing a correctional officer at the now-closed House of Correction.

If the Anne Arundel County jury convicts Lee Edward "Shy" Stephens in the July 2006 stabbing of Cpl. David McGuinn, he could become the first person sentenced to death under Maryland's new capital punishment law.

The three-week trial featured 10 prisoners testifying as eyewitnesses for both the prosecution and defense, giving jurors a peek into life at a troubled maximum-security prison where investigators found hundreds of homemade weapons in the aftermath of the slaying — but no murder weapon.

In closing arguments, prosecutor Sandra F. Howell told the jury Wednesday that Stephens, 32, and another prisoner, Lamar (also spelled Lamarr) Cornelius "Junebug" Harris, 41, opened their cell doors — the locks had been jimmied — and ambushed McGuinn, 42, during the 10 p.m. head count.

They chose him, she said, "for no other reason than he represented the system of law and order."

Howell derided as "ridiculous" the testimony by the defense's prisoner witnesses, who said they saw two large masked men stab McGuinn but didn't know who they were. She also noted that although the defense has claimed many cells were blood-splattered, Stephens' blood-streaked undershirt was found under his mattress. She argued that he wasn't seen wearing it during the attack, probably because he wrapped his knife in it during the slaying.

Defense attorney Michael E. Lawlor asked jurors to consider that the prosecution's prisoner witness made a "remarkable" claim that he could identify Stephens in the dim prison light from about 140 feet away. That witness, he said, was facing a 22-year federal prison sentence and was offered leniency for the testimony.

"This Rubik's cube that the state has presented, is it all one color, or is it the same jumble the state started with?" Lawlor said, arguing that parts of the investigation were improperly done or incomplete.

A 2009 law limits capital punishment to murders in which there is DNA or other biological evidence that links the defendant to the murder, a videotaped confession or a video recording of the crime.

Both Stephens and Harris are charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy. Whether Harris will be tried is unclear; psychiatrists have said he is mentally unfit for trial. A hearing on his competency has been scheduled for April.