A Dallas County jury found Brent Stephens guilty today of murder for the fatal beating of his ex-wife inside her North Dallas office building.
Brad Lollar, Mr. Stephens' attorney, had asked the jury to find his client not guilty by reason insanity for the May attack. Mr. Stephens testified Tuesday that he was bi-polar and had not been taking his medication, because he couldn't afford it.
Jurors deliberated for about 30 minutes before deciding his guilt.
Mr. Stephens, 39, could face life in prison.
On Tuesday, testifying in his own defense, he said a mysterious "voice" from behind told him to Denise Stephens -- then congratulated him after the deadly deed was done.
"The voice said, 'Kill Denise. Kill her,' " Mr. Stephens said, staring straight ahead for much of his hour-long testimony Tuesday during the first day of his murder trial.
After the woman was beaten to death with an aluminum baseball bat, he said, the voice spoke again, telling him: Good job. Congratulations. About time."
A few hours after the May 12 attack, Mr. Stephens sat in front of a Dallas police detective and admitted killing his ex-wife at her North Dallas office. A video recording played in court Tuesday showed Mr. Stephens sitting with his head in his hands when the detective left him alone in a room. With no one around, he said, "Shut up. Leave me alone. I did it."
Mr. Stephens said the voice had been telling him to kill the mother of his three daughters throughout their divorce process, and he had dreamed of ways to do it. He said he had dreamed about shooting her, strangling her and beating her with a bat. Mr. Stephens said he decided on the aluminum bat because it "was available."
Mr. Lollar, the defense attorney, did not give an opening statement, but hinted in court filings that he would raise the insanity defense and argue that Mr. Stephens did not know at the time that it was wrong to kill his 36-year-old ex-wife.
Mr. Stephens testified that he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1997 when he checked into a drug rehabilitation center to break his methamphetamine addiction. Earlier this year, he lost his job and could no longer afford his prescribed medication, which he said totaled about $2,000 a month.
He admitted to regularly driving by Ms. Stephens' McKinney home, where she and their three children lived with her mother, Betty Seymour.
Ms. Seymour testified that her son-in-law sent her daughter more than 40 text messages over a period of several months, filled with threats and name-calling. Ms. Stephens would regularly take photographs of the text messages and then save them on her mother's computer.
The messages said, "You've got mail, [expletive]!", "You're a whore and a slut," and "I have very little to live for these days."
In one, Mr. Stephens appeared to apologize for his behavior. "Alright. I'm over my bipolar mood swing now."
Mr. Stephens testified Tuesday that he slashed the tires on Ms. Stephens' car twice, rammed her car with his and broke into her house to steal her cellphone bill. He said he wanted to see what men she might have been talking to.
Through that period, Mr. Stephens said, "I would get up and go to work and suffer. Then I'd come home and suffer some more."
Mr. Stephens said he used a baseball bat from home and waited two hours for Ms. Stephens to arrive at her office the day of the slaying. He said he hid the bat inside his pants leg to keep others from seeing it. After the assault on his wife, Mr. Stephens threatened to jump off a Bush Turnpike overpass at Interstate 35E in Carrollton before police talked him out of it.
When asked by Dallas County prosecutor Messina Madson why he chose to act on the voices on May 12, Mr. Stephens did not have an answer.
"It's wrong to kill your ex-wife one day after Mother's Day, isn't it?" Ms. Madson asked Mr. Stephens during cross-examination.
"Yes," Mr. Stephens said.
"When did you realize it was wrong?" she asked.
"While I was talking to the detective," Mr. Stephens said, adding that he now regrets his actions.
"I feel terrible about it," Mr. Stephens said flatly. "I'm consumed with grief, and I wish it had never happened."