Stephanie Stephens

Forrest County, Mississippi
Date of Alleged Crime:  May 1, 2001

Stephanie Stephens was convicted of the murder of her 59-year-old husband, Dr. David Stephens. David was chief of surgery at Hattiesburg's Forrest General Hospital. David appeared to have died in his sleep while Stephanie slept next to him. However, two drugs were found in his system, Etomidate, an anesthetic, and Atricurium, a drug used to relax muscles during surgery for patients on life support. Without life support, Atricurium is lethal as it will paralyze a person's heart and lungs.

The prosecution argued that Stephanie murdered David by injecting him with the drugs. Since no drug bottles were found near David, he could not have injected himself and then put away the needle and drug bottles as the drugs would have incapacitated him in 40 seconds.

Stephanie's defense argued that David committed suicide. David had been diagnosed with Hepatitis C and was in liver failure. He was on a liver transplant waiting list and also had diabetes. When found dead, he had his insulin pump strapped to his side. According to Stephanie, he had talked about not wanting to go through with the liver transplant. If David put the drugs into his insulin pump, he would have had up to 15 minutes to put away the drug bottles. Also, as a doctor who possessed high status in the community, he probably would have wanted to hide his suicide and make it appear he died a natural death. No evidence was presented that David put up a struggle, which one might expect if Stephanie tried to inject an unknown substance into him. In addition, the use of an anesthetic was unnecessary for a murder and its presence suggests that it was self-administered.

A defense psychologist, Dr. Gerald O'Brien, testified that David was a classic suicide risk: “He had a terminal illness. He also had a history of drinking regularly. The records indicate that his grandfather either attempted or committed suicide.” David died six years to the day after his first wife's funeral. The first wife had committed suicide because she was distraught over an affair David was having with Stephanie.

Following David's death, Stephanie's house was robbed. Some of the stolen items were found in a storage locker registered to a friend, Karen Burnette. In return for apparent immunity from prosecution, Burnette testified that Stephanie told her that David wanted to die and that Stephanie had helped him by injecting him with two sedatives and a heart medicine.

Stephanie was injured in a car crash shortly after her marriage to David and had hip replacement surgery that failed. She was awaiting another hip replacement when she was convicted, a replacement she was denied in prison. She died three years after her conviction, in 2006, while still in her 30s.  [1/09]


Reference:  48 Hours

Posted in:  Victims of the State, Mississippi Cases, Homicides That Are Suicides, Husband Murder Cases