SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

October 29, 2013

Chappell guilty in slaying

Jury rejects insanity defense in social worker's stabbing

BY JULIE MANGANIS
STAFF WRITER

---- — PEABODY — He mumbled unintelligibly at his arraignment and rolled his head in circles as he sat at the defense table for his trial, as his lawyer repeatedly pointed to 1,800 pages of medical records and a diagnosis of schizophrenia.

But on the morning he stabbed Stephanie Moulton to death, Deshawn Chappell was perfectly capable of knowing right from wrong, a jury found yesterday.

Chappell, 30, had claimed an insanity defense in Moulton’s slaying, but yesterday a Suffolk Superior Court jury rejected that claim, finding Chappell guilty of first-degree murder in Moulton’s Jan. 20, 2011, death inside a Revere group home, Suffolk prosecutors announced.

The jury found that Chappell had acted with deliberate premeditation in the killing of the young woman from Peabody, who was preparing for her wedding at the time.

Judge Jeffrey Locke imposed the mandatory sentence for first-degree murder, life without chance of parole.

“Though this verdict will not bring Stephanie back, justice has prevailed,” said Diane Moulton, the victim’s stepmother, in a statement she read on behalf of herself and Bob Moulton, Stephanie’s father.

The evidence showed that Moulton, 25, was stabbed to death, with what a prosecutor said Thursday were “precision” wounds to the throat. Afterward, Chappell tried to clean up the massive amount of blood at the scene. When that didn’t work, he set a fire.

At some point, Chappell removed some of her clothing, put her body into her Chrysler PT Cruiser, got the keys and drove to Lynn, dumping her behind a church.

Then, he moved quickly to distance himself from the crime, cleaning up, seeking money from relatives and, when that didn’t work, stealing clean clothes from a Dorchester store to replace his blood-soaked garments, which he got rid of along with the murder weapon.

In closing arguments on Thursday, prosecutor Edmond Zabin said Chappell’s actions both before and after the brutal slaying showed that he was in control of his faculties, from his decision to wait until everyone else had left the group home to his efforts to clean up both the scene and himself, and flee.

“The facts established that this defendant planned Stephanie’s murder and planned to get away with it,” Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley said yesterday. “He waited until he was alone with her. He took steps to cover up the crime, flee the scene and escape accountability. This verdict was a rejection of the defense that he was not criminally responsible for his actions, and I hope it provides some satisfaction to Stephanie’s family.”

Daniel Solomon, in his argument to jurors last week, cited Chappell’s history of mental illness, including a diagnosis of schizophrenia, and his statements to doctors that he was hearing voices, including that of Moulton, commanding him to kill her.

The verdict came after about a day and a half of deliberations, during which one juror had to be excused and replaced with an alternate due to a family emergency, according to the docket. That forced the jurors to start their deliberations anew on Friday.

An appeal is automatic in all first-degree murder convictions in Massachusetts.

Kimberly Flynn, Moulton’s mother, recalled her daughter in a victim impact statement as someone who was “book smart but also street smart ... She would have made a big difference in this world.”

Flynn said she was “a little shocked” as the verdict was announced, having steeled herself for the possibility that Chappell would be found not guilty — and possibly set free in 45 days, a prospect that terrified her, she said.

She said she mouthed the words “thank you” to the jurors. “They were really great.”

The Moultons struggle with questions.

“How could this have happened?” Diane Moulton asked. “Why did this happen to her? These are questions that we still struggle to understand to this day. The grief and devastation that Stephanie’s death has had on her family is impossible to convey. The emptiness, sense of loss and heartache cannot be put into words.”

Moulton’s parents are continuing to pursue a civil suit against the board of directors of North Suffolk Mental Health, the private agency under contract to the state Department of Mental Health to run the group home where Chappell lived.

Her mother has also pursued legislation to change the requirements for staffing such facilities and providing information to workers.

Stephanie Moulton was never told about Chappell’s history of violence.

In a DMH report released yesterday by the family’s civil attorney, Chappell’s history of violence is detailed, including prior criminal charges of assault and battery, including on his own father, as well as inappropriate contact with female staff.

On the day she was killed, investigators found a note, believed to be written by Chappell to Moulton, asking her out. She had scribbled the word “inappropriate” on the note.

Yet, no one from North Suffolk ever asked for a Criminal Offender Records Information check on Chappell, under the thinking that it would hinder his ability to make a “fresh start,” said Flynn.

“In that report, it basically states in no uncertain terms that they were just as guilty for my daughter’s murder as Chappell was,” Flynn said.

Some of the more troubling aspects of the report deal with the lack of communication. “The stuff about not running CORI checks on the patients,” said Flynn. “In this day and age, you have to get a CORI to work at a gas station, you have to get CORIed for everything.”

Had her daughter known about Chappell’s history, she would never have let herself be put in a position of being alone with him, Flynn said.

Flynn will now return to her efforts to pass “Stephanie’s Law,” a bill aimed at creating protections for workers in facilities like the one where her daughter worked. She’s also pushing for increased workers’ compensation payments for families of victims.

“It’s not for me,” Flynn said. “It’s for my baby girl. She doesn’t have her voice. I have to be her voice for her.

“If it’s the last thing I do, I’m going to make sure no other girl goes through what my daughter went through.”

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.