By Matt Swearengin firstname.lastname@example.org
August 9, 2014
A preliminary hearing concluded Friday for a man charged with beating a person to death and then dropping the body in a creek.
Special Associate District Judge Trace Sherrill ruled there was sufficient evidence to go to trial in the case against Raymond J. Stewart, 26, who is accused of murdering Steven Lee Sessums, 32, Mead, in March.
During the hearing, Stewart’s attorney, Michael Haggerty II, argued there was insufficient evidence for a charge of first-degree murder because Sessums had assaulted other people in the home and that a person has a right to self-defense, especially in one’s own home.
“The evidence does not show intent to kill,” Haggerty said. “The best we’re looking at is second-degree murder.”
Bryan County District Attorney Emily Redman disagreed.
“The defendant admitted that Mr. Sessums never hit him with the stick,” Redman said, adding that Stewart also admitted to dragging Sessums by his ankles and then discarding him while he was still gurgling blood.
Authorities began investigating when a passerby saw a body in Canella Creek off Old Highway 70 east of Durant.
The victim initially was unknown until the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation identified him as Sessums, who died from blunt trauma to the head and neck.
A probable-cause affidavit by Bryan County District Attorney Investigator David Cathey states that authorities questioned Destinee Delozier, identified as Stewart’s girlfriend, and she said she witnessed an altercation between Stewart and another man who had not been identified at the time of the interview.
The affidavit states that a struggle occurred in her home in the 200 block of East Locust Street and that the man who was later found in a creek became incapacitated.
Delozier made statements to investigators that indicated Stewart’s pickup was used to take the incapacitated man to the creek east of Durant, the affidavit states.
OSBI Agent Reanae Childers interviewed Stewart, and according to the affidavit, he admitted to the altercation with the unidentified man and also driving him to the creek, where he pushed the body over the bridge.
The cause of the altercation was not revealed in the affidavit, however, OSBI previously said that it began at a Durant tavern. Stewart has prior convictions for knowingly concealing stolen property and false declaration of ownership in pawn. He was sentenced to five years in prison on these charges in 2009. According to online Oklahoma Department of Corrections records, he was released from prison in November 2013.
Stewart remains in jail on $1 million bond. During Friday’s hearing, the court set his formal arraignment for Sept. 2.
Reach Matt Swearengin at 634-2160 or DDDEditor@Twitter.com.