- DOC Number: 1126832.
- Inmate Number: 343777.
- Venue: City of Norfolk.
- Capital murder of Keshia Stephens.
- Capital murder of Ruben Harrison, III.
- Capital murder of Nykia Stephens.
- Capital murder of Shearyia Stephens.
- Statutory burglary while armed with a deadly weapon.
- Use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.
- Use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.
- Use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.
- Use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.
- Current Location: Sussex I State Prison.
- Status: Petition for writ of certiorari challenging the Supreme Court of Virginia’s affirmation of death sentence denied.
- As of: October 10, 2006.
Summary of crime:
From Juniper v. Commonwealth [emphasis mine throughout]:
On the afternoon of January 16, 2004, Keshia Stephens, her younger brother Rueben Harrison, III,3 and two of Keshia’s daughters, Nykia Stephens and Shearyia Stephens,4 were killed in Keshia’s apartment in the City of Norfolk. When police arrived, they found that the door to Keshia’s apartment had been forcibly opened. All four victims were discovered in the master bedroom; each had died as a result of gunshot wounds.
3 The record contains several different spellings of Rueben Harrison, III’s first name. We will spell his name “Rueben,” consistent with the indictment.
4 Shearyia Stephens was also known as Sheryia Benns.
Keshia was stabbed through her abdomen, shot three times, and grazed by a fourth bullet. One bullet went through her intestine, kidney, and spine, causing spinal shock and leg paralysis. Another bullet also passed through her intestines and then proceeded to her abdominal aorta and inferior vena cava, causing extensive bleeding.
The stab wound did not fatally wound Keshia, but tore through the muscle of her abdominal wall. There was a great deal of blood accompanying the wound, however, which led the medical examiner performing the autopsy to conclude that the stab wound was probably the first injury inflicted on Keshia. The stab wound was consistent with a wound that would have been caused by the knife blade found at the scene of the crime.
Two-year old Shearyia was shot four times while in her mother’s arms. Two bullets entered Shearyia’s body in the shin of her left leg, fractured the bone, and exited through her calf. A third bullet entered and exited Shearyia’s body through her thigh. The fourth bullet entered the crown of her head and passed through her brain, causing bone fragments to chip off.
Rueben Harrison was shot three times. One bullet struck his pelvic bone, and ricocheted through his body into his abdomen, liver, heart and lung, finally coming to rest in his armpit. A second bullet hit his hip bone, and exited through the front of his leg. A third bullet broke his femur bone, and exited his body at his front thigh. The medical examiner testified that the broken bones would have caused excruciating pain and immediately disabled Rueben.
Four-year old Nykia was shot one time behind her left ear. The bullet moved through her skull and cerebellum to the base of her skull, into her esophagus and trachea, causing substantial damage and bleeding, before exiting her chest. The medical examiner testified that the bullet’s path was consistent with Nykia ducking her head and body toward the shooter prior to being shot. In addition, the presence of blood in Nykia’s lungs indicated that she had taken one or two breaths between being shot and dying. Her body was found lying on top of her uncle’s body.
Evidence presented at trial showed that Juniper and Keshia had been involved in an on-again, off-again tumultuous relationship for approximately two years. On the morning of the shootings, Juniper telephoned his friend, Renee Rashid, from his mother’s house where he was living at the time. Juniper asked Rashid to drive him to Keshia’s apartment so that he could retrieve some of his belongings. A short time later Rashid picked up Juniper at his mother’s house and drove him to Keshia’s apartment.
Both Juniper and Rashid entered Keshia’s apartment, which was on the second floor of the apartment building. Rashid saw four individuals in the apartment: Keshia, Rueben, who was asleep on the couch, and two of Keshia’s children, Nykia and Shearyia, who were preparing to take a bath. After helping Juniper disconnect a DVD player, Rashid was talking to the two girls, but overheard Juniper and Keshia arguing in another room. Keshia repeatedly made comments such as, “There’s nobody but you. I told you I’m not seeing anybody but you.”
After Rashid announced that she was leaving, Juniper followed her to the door of the apartment. Hearing the door shut, Rashid assumed Juniper was behind her as she began to descend the apartment building steps. But as she was going down the stairway outside Keshia’s apartment, Rashid heard a “loud boom” that she described as “sounding like the door being kicked in.” Not stopping to look behind her, Rashid hurried to her car. While waiting in her car outside the apartment, Rashid heard Keshia crying and repeating her statement that she was not seeing anyone but Juniper. Rashid sounded her horn to alert Juniper that she wanted to leave. Juniper yelled at Rashid to “Go ahead” so she began to drive away. As she drove away from the apartment she heard four “booms,” which she described as “sounding like gunshots.”
Rashid did not stop, but proceeded to Juniper’s mother’s house, and expressed her concern that Juniper had remained at Keshia’s apartment. Juniper’s friend, Keon Murray, was there when Rashid arrived. Juniper called his mother’s house and Murray talked to him on the telephone. Murray observed that Juniper was calling from Keshia’s apartment because the Caller ID number matched Keshia’s telephone number. Juniper told Murray that “They gone,” and that Keshia’s apartment was surrounded. He also stated that he “killed them,” although he did not name particular individuals.
Murray then called Tyrone Mings, a friend who lived near Keshia’s apartment building, and asked him to check Keshia’s apartment. Mings walked to the apartment and observed that the front door appeared to have been kicked in. Upon entering Keshia’s apartment, Mings testified that he saw Juniper standing in the living room with a white substance on his face and holding an automatic pistol. When Mings asked Juniper about Keshia, Juniper directed Mings to the back of the apartment. Upon entering the master bedroom, Mings saw Rueben and a young girl lying on the bed. Mings did not see Keshia and asked Juniper where she was. Juniper told Mings she was “between the bed and the dresser.” Mings returned to the bedroom and called to the people in the room, but no one answered. Mings departed Keshia’s apartment, leaving Juniper in the living room, still holding the pistol. Upon returning to his apartment, Mings called the police.
In the meantime, Rashid and Murray picked up Juniper’s cousin (“Little John”) and drove to Keshia’s apartment. Murray and Little John went to look for Juniper, while Rashid stayed in the car. They returned to the car with Juniper, who sat in the front passenger seat next to Rashid, the driver. Rashid described Juniper as being “jittery” and “breathing real hard.” Juniper kept looking in the mirrors, saying, “they’re behind us” throughout the car ride. Murray stated that Juniper “looked nervous,” “like he was in shock,” and that he had a powdery substance like cocaine on his face. Juniper held a black and chrome automatic pistol in his right hand, resting on his lap.
The police first arrived at Keshia’s apartment complex at 12:50 p.m., after receiving a telephone call reporting possible gunshots. The responding officer walked around the apartment building and spoke with two residents, but did not go up the stairway to Keshia’s apartment. After conferring with a second police officer who had arrived on scene, both officers left the apartment complex believing the call to have been a false report.
Mings observed the officers leave and called the police a second time. Near 2:20 p.m. police officers again arrived at the apartment complex and this time went up the stairway to Keshia’s apartment. Officer W.G. Snyder testified the “whole center part of the door was completely knocked . . . inward into the apartment, and wooden debris from the door was lying inside the apartment.” The officers entered the apartment, and observed Nykia’s body lying across Rueben on the bed in the master bedroom. They then observed Shearyia’s body lying across Keshia’s body on the floor beside the bed. The officers received no response from any of them.
Police investigators recovered a cigarette butt from the floor by the front door of Keshia’s apartment. From the master bedroom where the bodies were located, investigators recovered a knife blade, a knife handle, and shell casings. Shell casings were also found in a bathroom adjoining the master bedroom.
A firearm and toolmark examinations expert testified that bullet casings found in the apartment and the bullets recovered from the victims’ bodies were fired from a single nine-millimeter, Luger semi-automatic pistol.5 The expert also analyzed the recovered knife blade and knife handle and determined that the blade and handle were originally joined.
5 The firearm was never recovered.
A latent fingerprint expert testified a fingerprint found on the knife blade had “a minimum of 23 matching characteristics” to Juniper’s right thumbprint. In addition, an expert in forensic serology and DNA analysis testified that Juniper’s DNA profile matched DNA from the knife handle6 and the cigarette butt.7
6 Sixteen loci from the knife handle matched Juniper’s DNA profile. The DNA expert testified that Juniper could not be excluded as the source of the DNA, with the odds of another individual having a matching DNA profile being one in greater than six billion individuals, the population of the world.
7 Fifteen loci matched Juniper’s profile from the DNA on the cigarette butt; again, the DNA expert testified that Juniper could not be excluded as the source of the DNA, with the odds of another individual having a matching DNA profile being one in greater than six billion individuals.
The police obtained warrants for Juniper’s arrest and he surrendered voluntarily on January 26, 2005. While incarcerated at the Hampton Roads Regional Jail awaiting trial, Juniper admitted to a fellow inmate, Ernest Smith, that he committed the murders. Smith testified that while the two were together in the medical pod at the Hampton Roads Regional Jail, Juniper confessed to shooting the four victims. Smith testified that Juniper told him that he had killed the children because “he didn’t want to leave any witnesses at the scene of the crime.”
During the penalty phase, the Commonwealth introduced evidence of Juniper’s criminal record, which contained convictions for grand larceny, possession of cocaine, possession of marijuana, threatening to kill, disorderly conduct, failure to appear, and numerous motor vehicle violations. The Commonwealth contended its evidence proved the aggravating factors of both future dangerousness and vileness.
The Commonwealth also introduced evidence of Juniper’s violent behavior and unadjudicated criminal conduct. Several of the Commonwealth’s witnesses testified about Juniper’s tumultuous and abusive relationship with Keshia. Ruqayyah Barnes described an incident that occurred at a night club in August 2003. She was present when Juniper accused Keshia of “some guy looking at her, and so he started getting mad and calling her names. He told her, ‘Bitch, get over here right now before I whoop your ass, ‘and said, ‘That guy looking at you. ‘” Ruqayyah testified that Juniper was “screaming” these things to Keshia and “standing right in front of her face.” According to her testimony, Juniper yelled at Keshia because “that nigger over there looking at you.” And accused Keshia of “f * * king with him.”
Ruqayyah also testified about an event in September 2003. She and Keshia returned from shopping when Juniper began fighting with Keshia. He complained that Keshia and Ruqayyah were
taking too long and [Keshia] don’t do s * * t for no kids. He do everything. He feed them. He do their hair. He buy their clothes. He do everything. They’re his kids. . . . And then he pulled her by her hair and start screaming in her face about us being gone at the mall too long. Then he punched her in her face. She fell down on the floor. She slid back in the hallway into the kitchen.
Ruqayyah clarified that Juniper “just grabbed [Keshia’s] hair and yanked it real hard and she came closer to him.” When Juniper punched Keshia, he did so “with a closed fist . . . right in her eye.”
Ruqayyah’s sister, Malika T. Barnes, testified that in the spring of 2003, she witnessed Juniper trying to get Keshia’s attention, and when Keshia did not respond to her name, he said, “‘B, I know you heard me calling you, ‘”before “calling her a whole bunch of names.” When Keshia sat down in the room where Malika and Juniper were located, Juniper “told [Keshia] to go back in the room.” When Keshia did not leave, Juniper “grabbed her by her arm and got her, and guided her toward the room.”
Malika also described an incident that occurred at the food store where Keshia worked. Before Malika entered the store, Juniper told her that Keshia was cheating on him. Juniper followed Malika into the store and “told Keshia to go to the back to get something, and she didn’t move fast enough to get it.” So Juniper pulled Keshia’s arm as he “fussed and hollered as usual.”
In the summer of 2003, Malika witnessed Juniper “grabbing Keshia’s arm.” In clarifying what she saw, Malika stated that Juniper grabbed Keshia “forcefully” and “grabbed her arm to direct her toward him.” When Malika confronted Juniper for acting that way, Malika testified that Juniper responded, “‘That’s my bitch. “That’s my hoe. “When I tell my bitch to come here, that’s what I want her to do. ‘”He then threatened to “f * * k all [you] bitches up.”
The assistant manager of the food store where Keshia worked recounted several verbal and physical altercations between Juniper and Keshia. In January 2003, the assistant manager observed Juniper approach Keshia after she smiled at a customer. She testified that Juniper had told Keshia that he would “smack the s** t out [of] you, bitch, for smiling at the customer that went out.”
The manager also described an incident she observed between Keshia and Juniper in the spring of 2003. According to her testimony, Juniper
punched [Keshia] in her face, and her wig came off. She picked her wig back up and put it on. By that time I was getting out [of] the car. Keshia ran in the [food store], and I unlocked the office. And I took her in the office, and I told her that he had to leave the premises or I was going to call the police. After that he was barred from the store.
The manager confirmed that by “punch” she meant that Juniper’s “right hand [was] balled up into a fist with [his] fingers curled into [his] palm.”
In June 2003, police responded to a domestic dispute between Juniper and Keshia. Juniper admitted to “slapping” duct tape on Keshia’s arm, mouth, and head in order to “keep her quiet,” and confirmed that he had “done that before.” Juniper was charged with abduction as a result of this incident, but the charges were not prosecuted because Keshia failed to appear in court.
Other witnesses described Juniper’s conduct while incarcerated. A deputy in the Norfolk Sheriff’s Department testified that when she informed Juniper that he did not have any mail that day, he responded by calling her “a cracker ass whore” and telling her to “Walk away, you f * * kin’ bitch. Carry your ass away, you f * * kin’ bitch.”
During a search of Juniper and his jail cell in April 2004, corrections officers found a large paper clip concealed under Juniper’s tongue. Possession of the paper clip was prohibited contraband because it could be used as a weapon or handcuff key.
In October 2004, Juniper attacked a sleeping inmate with a pillowcase containing dominoes and kicked the inmate in the ribs. Juniper left the scene of the attack when challenged by another inmate and ran into an elderly inmate’s cell, whereupon he took the footrest from the inmate’s wheelchair. Juniper then confronted the other inmates with the wheelchair footrest, threatening, “I kill you.” It required several officers fifteen to twenty minutes to stop Juniper’s attack.
- “Offender Locator.” Virginia Department of Corrections 11 Oct. 2010. <http://www.vadoc.state.va.us/offenders/locator/index.cfm>. [↩] [↩] [↩]
- Juniper v. Commonwealth, 271 Va. 362, 626 S.E.2d 383 (2006), cert. denied, Juniper v. Virginia, 549 U.S. 960, 127 S. Ct. 397, 166 L. Ed. 2d 282 (2006). [↩]
- Juniper v. Commonwealth, 271 Va. 362, 376, 626 S.E.2d 383, 393 (2006), cert. denied, Juniper v. Virginia, 549 U.S. 960, 127 S. Ct. 397, 166 L. Ed. 2d 282 (2006). [↩] [↩] [↩] [↩]
- Juniper v. Commonwealth, 271 Va. 362, 375, 626 S.E.2d 383, 393 (2006), cert. denied, Juniper v. Virginia, 549 U.S. 960, 127 S. Ct. 397, 166 L. Ed. 2d 282 (2006). [↩] [↩] [↩] [↩] [↩] [↩] [↩] [↩] [↩]
- Juniper v. Virginia, 549 U.S. 960, 127 S. Ct. 397, 166 L. Ed. 2d 282 (2006). [↩] [↩]
- Juniper v. Commonwealth, 271 Va. 362, -382, 626 S.E.2d 383, -397 (2006), cert. denied, Juniper v. Virginia, 549 U.S. 960, 127 S. Ct. 397, 166 L. Ed. 2d 282 (2006). [↩]