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2 views emerge of suspect in killing

Prosecutors said Corinne Stephen is responsible in the killing of Dontel Jeffers. Her lawyer said she is the victim of a misdirected police probe. Prosecutors said Corinne Stephen is responsible in the killing of Dontel Jeffers. Her lawyer said she is the victim of a misdirected police probe.
Email|Print| Text size + By John R. Ellement
Globe Staff / November 15, 2007

Corinne Stephen sat motionless yesterday as two lawyers painted very different pictures of the Dorchester woman, who was once in the Army National Guard and had been considered a caring foster parent.

A Suffolk prosecutor described Stephen yesterday as the person responsible for the brutal killing of her foster child, Dontel Jeffers, 4, who died in her care in 2005. Her lawyer said she was the victim of a misdirected Boston police investigation.

A Suffolk Superior Court jury today will resume deliberations in Stephen's second degree murder trial. Both sides gave closing arguments in the circumstantial case, in which there is no precise cause of death for the child.

Suffolk Assistant District Attorney David Deakin, in an intense speech, said Dontel was a healthy, slightly overactive boy, when the Department of Social Services entrusted him to Stephen on Feb. 24, 2005.

Ten days later, Stephen, and two other people, rushed Dontel to Caritas Carney Hospital in Dorchester, where a trauma team spent more than 40 minutes trying unsuccessfully to revive him. He was pronounced dead on March 6, 2005.

Dontel had a black eye, bruises on both arms, ligature marks around his wrist and ankles, a ruptured intestine, and a bruised throat, as if someone had tried to strangle him, Deakin said.

"He was tortured," Deakin told the jury.

Deakin said medical experts testified they could not say whether Dontel was strangled or died from abdominal infection. But Deakin said experts were certain that Dontel would have lived if he got medical attention that Stephen chose not to seek for the child.

Dontel was placed in DSS custody after he was removed from his mother's Charlestown home. Although paternal relatives were ready to care for him, DSS used Mentor Inc., a for-profit social service agency, to put Dontel in Stephen's care.

In his closing, attorney John F. Palmer said investigators focused on Stephen to the exclusion of other people who might have had access to Dontel while he was living with her in a Ballou Avenue apartment.

Palmer also said investigators failed to conduct DNA testing on physical evidence collected from inside the apartment.

"They weren't interested in developing evidence that would have helped my client," Palmer told the jury.

Palmer also said Stephen's personal history - she was in the Army National Guard and had taken college level nursing courses - made her an unlikely killer. He also pointed out that Stephen drove the boy to the hospital.

"I would suggest to you that a murderer would not bring her victim to the hospital," Palmer said.

Superior Court Judge Margaret Hinkle told jurors they can acquit Stephen of all charges or find her guilty of second-degree murder or the lesser charges of involuntary manslaughter or assault and battery with a dangerous weapon.

Second-degree murder carries a life sentence with the possibility of parole after 15 years, while a manslaughter sentence can range from probation to a maximum of 20 years.

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