Trial ahead for man accused of strangling York-area wife, dumping her body
The husband of homicide victim Queshantea "Bubbles" Stephens is now facing trial in York County Court for allegedly strangling her two summers ago shortly after she told him to move out of their home.
At the close of the hearing Friday, District Judge Joel Toluba determined enough evidence exists against Zukael Tony Stephens for him to stand trial on the homicide charge.
Stephens, 41, remains in York County Prison without bail. Toluba set his formal court arraignment for July 12.
Testifying against him Friday were York City Police Detective Tiffany Pitts, who is the lead investigator in the case, and York County Coroner Pam Gay.
Detailed questioning of the witnesses on cross-examination by Stephens' defense attorney, first assistant public defender Clasina Houtman, made it clear Stephens is challenging the homicide charge against him.
"We will be vigorously defending him," Houtman confirmed after the hearing and noted that Stephens maintains his innocence.
Stephens has already beaten one murder charge. In September 2007, a Baltimore jury acquitted him of the murder of Marcus Rogers, 26, described in news articles at the time as a transgender activist in Baltimore. Read more about that here:
The background: The body of 39-year-old hairdresser Queshantea Stephens, of West Manchester Township, was found at 1:06 a.m. Aug. 29, 2017, in Heiges Alley behind the 700 block of West Princess Street.
Her death was initially deemed suspicious, but Gay's office later ruled it a homicide, with the cause of death being listed as "suspicious for asphyxia."
Police allege her husband strangled her in their home Aug. 28, 2017, dumped her body in York City, then set about cover his tracks.
Police said his track-covering included writing a post on his dead wife's Facebook page, pretending to be her. He apparently didn't know it yet, but her body had been discovered seven minutes before that post hit Facebook.
The victim's loved ones alerted detectives to the garbled post. 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!!!"
Detective Pitts said she later determined the post came from Zukael Stephens' cellphone, although he has denied writing it.
Pitts also testified that Stephens flip-flopped on whether he was in possession of his own cellphone and ultimately claimed he wasn't.
Pregnant mistress: The detective testified that the alleged killer's mistress — who he called "Harlem Nights" in his cellphone — was pregnant with his child, a daughter who was born nine months after Queshantea's slaying.
Phone records between Zukael Stephens and his mistress, who lived in Maryland at the time, show they were discussing the seriousness of their relationship the day Queshantea Stephens was last seen, according to Pitts.
Pitts testified that many of the victim's loved ones either came to the police station or called police in the hours and days after Queshantea Stephens was found dead, "which led us to then wonder where her husband was."
She said police tracked down Zukael Stephens on Aug. 30.
He did not attend his wife's funeral, Pitts testified.
Kicked out by victim: All of Queshantea's friends and family members told investigators that she wanted Zukael Stephens out of her life, according to Pitts.
"She was kicking him out," Pitts said.
A text exchange between the couple confirmed she told her husband to get out, according to Pitts. who testified Zukael Stephens' statements to police between his first and second interviews were inconsistent.
Queshantea's cellphone was never found, the detective said.
Pitts' testimony also suggests Zukael Stephens sent text messages from his wife's phone in an effort to show she was alive when she was actually dead.
Court documents indicate Queshantea Stephens was working at least two jobs, while her husband was unemployed.
Arson case: Zukael Stephens, also known as Stephen Harrison, was sentenced in York County Court to 1½ to three years in state prison 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 for financial gain.
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.