Miami-Dade prosecutors fight to keep homeless man with schizophrenia locked up for 150 years
State prosecutors said in court Thursday that they support keeping in place a 150-year prison sentence for a man convicted of possessing child pornography while he was homeless and suffering from years of untreated schizophrenia.
The highly unusual sentence was 129 years longer than what prosecutors recommended after the conviction. They had originally offered a three-year sentence if he would plead guilty. He wouldn’t, and the state increased the number of charges, increasing the potential maximum sentence.
Judge William Altfield is considering reducing the sentence for Jared Stephens, 32, who was originally convicted in 2018. A previous judge, Veronica Diaz, gave Stephens the de facto life sentence, despite prosecutors asking for 21 years.
Stephens’ defense lawyers say the sentence was unjust because Stephens suffers from mental illness and needs treatment, adding that 150 years is far out of line with sentences given to other similar offenders.
The crime itself was an irrational act. Stephens pulled a laptop from his backpack, declared ”Look, I have child pornography!” then sat down on the floor of a Best Buy in Sweetwater, publicly perusing it as shoppers milled about. In court during the original proceedings, he made various absurd claims, including that he could shut off the electricity to Russia with the power of his mind.
Stephens, who has been incarcerated at Charlotte Correctional Institution, appeared for the first time in person before Judge Altfield Thursday as the court heard arguments for his motion to reduce his sentence. Judge Altfield had previously declined to rule on the motion, insisting that he wanted to meet with Stephens before making his decision.
Stephens stood beside his attorney, Fan Li, as Judge Altfield greeted him and spoke to him briefly before arguments began.
Assistant State Attorney Katharine Moore began her arguments by making it clear that the state supports the 150-year sentence and opposes any disturbance of the ruling. At a hearing on Jan. 6, Moore admitted she was “taken aback” by the original sentence. On Thursday, she requested that the court review several exhibits from the trial, including Stephens’ laptop computer, before ruling on the motion.
In response to the state’s objection to reducing the sentence, Judge Altfield noted that the state had previously agreed to extend the time frame to negotiate a resolution.
Moore responded by saying that Chief Assistant State Attorney Stephen Talpins is no longer open to negotiating because Stephens had previously been uncooperative, indicating he was unwilling to undergo mental health evaluations.
“But he is now,” Judge Altfield responded.
Stephens was recently evaluated by a psychologist and that evaluation will soon be available for the court’s review, Stephens’ defense informed the court.
Stephens’ competency has repeatedly been at issue during previous court proceedings. He was declared incompetent at the start of his trial in 2017 and evaluations from that proceeding show that he suffers from schizophrenia.
Defense counsel asked for an off-the-record sidebar, which lasted for about 15 minutes.
Once back on the record, Judge Altfield determined that he would hold off on making a ruling until after the exhibits and mental health evaluation have been reviewed.
The State Attorney’s Office did not respond to requests for comment.
A status conference is scheduled for Feb. 14.