York homicide suspect stood trial for 2006 Baltimore murder
A West Manchester Township man accused of killing his wife in August 2017 and dumping her body in York City was acquitted of an unrelated homicide more than a decade ago.
Zukael Tony Stephens, 41, remains in York County Prison without bail, charged with homicide for allegedly strangling Queshantea "Bubbles" Stephens on Aug. 28, 2017.
The 39-year-old hairdresser's body was found about 1 a.m. Aug. 29, 2017, at the edge of an alley behind the 700 block of West Princess Street. Her cause of death was ruled to be asphyxia, according to the York County Coroner's Office.
Zukael Stephens is originally from the Baltimore area.
In September 2007, a jury acquitted him of the murder of Marcus Rogers, 26, described in news articles at the time as a transgender activist in Baltimore.
According to reports in The Baltimore Sun and the former Baltimore Examiner, Rogers was found badly beaten and partially burned inside his apartment on St. Paul Street on Oct. 11, 2006. The killer attempted to destroy evidence by trying to torch the apartment.
Rogers died six days later at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, according to reports. He suffered a fractured skull, second-degree burns on his back and cuts to his face, according to a Baltimore Examiner report.
Jury took too long? Zukael Stephens' defense attorney at trial, Linwood Hedgepeth, said his client had known Rogers for years and was in fact in Rogers' apartment the night the man was killed.
"I remember the case very specifically," Hedgepeth told The York Dispatch, adding it took jurors less than two hours to clear his client.
"He wasn't grateful," the attorney recalled of Stephens' reaction to his acquittal. "He asked, 'Why did they take so long?'"
Hedgepeth said he believes Stephens was set up, either because he was there that night "or it was a cover-up for somebody."
Also, the attorney said, police likely focused on Stephens because he initially lied to them about walking into Rogers' apartment building with two white men who he said left the building an hour or so before he did.
Hedgepeth said he argued to jurors that Stephens "got no advantage from that lie."
Jurors 'gasped': The attorney also recalled the moment when jurors saw surveillance video of the apparent alleged killer leaving the apartment building. The prosecution had claimed the person captured on video was Stephens.
"When they showed it to the jury, three or four of them gasped," Hedgepeth said, "because it wasn't him."
DNA found at the scene didn't match Stephens, who was acquitted of murder, arson and vehicle theft, his attorney said. Police had claimed he stole Rogers' car after the homicide and torched it, but his attorney said there was no evidence implicating Stephens.
Hedgepeth said the presiding judge wrongly ruled in favor of the prosecution on four occasions. The attorney also said Rogers sold pot in his home and lived with a man who was the son of a police officer but that the prosecution didn't explore either of those avenues.
"It was a smart jury — a very smart jury," Hedgepeth said, and it was racially diverse.
The Baltimore City State's Attorney's Office did not have anyone available to comment for this article. At the time of Stephens' acquittal, an office spokesman said the case against Stephens had been a strong one, according to media reports.
Hedgepeth — when told about Stephens' pending homicide charge — said, "I'm shocked to hear that."
The homicide: When Queshantea Stephens was killed, Zukael Stephens' mistress was pregnant with his child, a baby girl who was born nine months after the homicide, according to York City Police.
When questioned, the mistress told investigators she'd heard Queshantea Stephens was packing up Zukael Stephens' belongings because she was angry at him, documents state.
The mistress also told police that she and Zukael Stephens were texting back and forth the day of his wife's death "regarding the seriousness of their relationship," charging documents state.
Queshantea Stephens was living in West Manchester Township with her husband at the time of her death, according to documents.
York City Police have said they believe Zukael Stephens strangled his wife and dumped her body in the area where she was found.
'Pray for my husband': The victim's loved ones alerted detectives to a garbled post on her Facebook page that appeared seven minutes after her body was found. It stated:
"Please pray for us. The enemy is working on us terribly. Pray for my husband to be humble not puff up. Change how he speak which offend many people. Pray for me patience and emotionally growth to overcome the hurt and pain I went through in my marriage. Pray for our union to grow and become stronger in trust and communication. ... I love my husband!!!! Thank you!!!"
Lead Detective Tiffany Pitts later determined the post came from Zukael Stephens' cellphone, although he has denied writing it, charging documents state.
Queshantea Stephens died between 12 and 24 hours before her body was found, according to police, or between 1 a.m. and 1 p.m. Aug. 28, 2017, police said.
"Based on the time of death, the only person to be with Queshantea Stephens during her ... death was Zukael Stephens by his own statements," Pitts wrote in those documents.
York County arson case: Zukael Stephens, whose birth name was Stephen Harrison, remains in the state prison in Chester County.
He is serving a 1½- to three-year prison sentence for torching his brother's Dodge Charger on a Paradise Township road in July 2016.
Northern York County Regional Police arrested Stephens and his brother, Robert Harrison, in February 2017, alleging they conspired to destroy Harrison's car.
Zukael Stephens later pleaded guilty to criminal mischief in exchange for his arson charges being dismissed, court records state. All charges against Harrison were dropped.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.