Jurors deliberated only 3 1/2 hours before finding Steven Ray James guilty of murdering his infant son and then throwing the body in a river.
Reacting to the verdict, James criticized the jury for such a brief deliberation and repeatedly maintained his innocence. He vowed to appeal the verdict.Stunned, members of his family tearfully embraced each other. James's father, Roy, who had testified on his son's behalf, said, "There's no way way they can convince me he's guilty . . . . When the jury came back, we thought it was awfully early. We didn't feel they had much evidence."
Victoria DeLeon, mother of the murdered child, was not in the courtroom to hear the guilty verdict Thursday night. Having testified that James was a jealous and abusive father, a drug addict and a liar, DeLeon remained in the courtroom Thursday afternoon for part of the closing arguments, but left distraught when defense attorneys described James as a "loving, devoted father."
On Monday, the jury will return to hear evidence regarding James's prior felony conviction 15 years ago in California for kidnapping a woman at gunpoint. If the jury determines the kidnapping involved "threat or force" then the first-degree conviction in the murder case will be punishable by life in prison. If the jury determines the conviction does not rise to an "aggravated" level, then James could be eligible for a lighter sentence of 5 years to life.
In closing arguments Thursday, prosecutor James Jenkins pointed at James, who sat emotionless at the defense table, saying, "He killed his baby then dropped him in the river, in a bundle weighted down with large rocks, never to be found again."
The murder was calculated, Jenkins said.
He said James had become jealous of the attention his girlfriend, DeLeon, had been paying her firstborn. The new father was unemployed, using drugs and frustrated by financial pressures the baby presented. DeLeon was the breadwinner in the family. James felt useless and resented tending Steven Roy James while DeLeon was at work. Frequently, he vented his frustration by beating the child and by leaving him home alone while he went to the bar for a drink with friends.
"So he devised a plan," Jenkins said. "He would get rid of the baby and salvage his relationship (with Victoria)."
On Aug. 25, l986 - the night before James reported his son missing - James drove to a marina to inspect the scene where he would dispose of the body. The morning that he killed his son, James did something he had never done before. He helped Victoria so she could spend additional time with her son before leaving for work. James knew it was the last time she would spend with the baby "who was her life."
On Aug. 26, 1986, James reported to police that his son had been kidnapped from his car parked outside a Logan drugstore.
Before killing the baby, James dressed his son in a favorite T-shirt that he thought his son looked good in, the prosecutor said.
"He killed his son and then fabricated a cover-up story."
Defense attorney Robert Gutke accused law enforcement officers of "bungling" the investigation by concentrating on James and ignoring other leads.
Following the guilty verdict, defense attorneys said they will appeal, contending some jurors, tainted by pretrial publicity, should have been questioned more thoroughly and disqualified.