Deshawn James Chappell, the man accused of killing a mental health worker at a group home in Revere in 2011, had “a purpose and a plan” in stabbing Stephanie Moulton and dumping her body in a church parking lot, a prosecutor said Friday.
“He waited to get her alone,” Assistant District Attorney Edmond Zabin said at the first day of Chappell’s first-degree murder trial in Suffolk Superior Court. Chappell, he said, was a man “with malice in his heart and a knife in his hand” and a man who “went to great lengths to cover up this crime.”
But, in his opening statement, Chappell’s defense lawyer told the jury that his client is a schizophrenic who heard voices that “told him to do things.”
“He has been repeatedly diagnosed as having a major mental illness,” said Daniel Solomon, who said family members and specialists would testify over the course of the trial that Chappell, 30, has heard voices in his head for years.
“It’s real,” he said. “No one ever says he’s making it up.”
The trial, which is expected to last about two weeks, will probably focus on whether Chappell was legally sane at the time of the killing. Solomon said several specialists would testify that Chappell has an extreme mental illness that is episodic.
“Sometimes it’s there, and sometimes it’s not,” he said.
At several points Friday, Chappell rolled his head in a slow circle and stared blankly at the ceiling, drawing the jury’s attention. He also slumped in his chair, covering his face with his hands. He rarely looked in the jury’s direction.
Authorities say Chappell, who had recently moved into the group home where Moulton worked, attacked her when the two were alone in the house, then started a trash fire in an attempt to destroy evidence of the crime.
He later contacted his family to see if he could stay with them, and they notified police.
The group home where Chappell was living is designed for people who do not need extensive support and seeks to help them live independently, employees testified.
Zabin said the efforts that Chappell made to conceal his crime showed that he is criminally responsible for her death.
“Don’t replace your judgment with theirs,” he said, referring to the psychiatric experts expected to take the stand.
Zabin also told jurors that Chappell beat Moulton, stabbed her, and then slit her neck. Zabin called the scene a “blood bath.”
“Nothing in her life could have prepared her for the terrifying way her life ended,” he said.
After discarding Moulton’s body, Chappell drove to Dorchester, where he stole new clothes from a discount store. Zabin said police never found Chappell’s discarded clothes or the weapon used in the killing.
Chappell later called his grandmother, looking for a place to stay. She had seen the news and notified police of his whereabouts. Chappell was found with a speck of Moulton’s blood on his fingernail, Zabin said.
Solomon said Chappell’s attempts to escape police and cover up the crime were “chaotic, disorganized, and utterly ineffective.”
At Chappell’s arraignment in March 2011, a court-
appointed psychologist said that Chappell appeared psychotic and did not “understand the reality around him.” His lawyer at that hearing said he had stopped taking his medication before the attack.
On Friday, Moulton’s co-workers testified that Chappell and Moulton were alone in the house at the time of the slaying. Mark Kamau, who worked with Moulton at the group home, also recounted an angry confrontation with Chappell before the attack. When Chappell discovered that Kamau had shut his bedroom window, he cursed at him and said he was “messing it up for me.”
“His elevated anger was a concern, yes,” Kamau said.
Chappell made no indication he was hearing voices, Kamau said.
When Kamau left the house at the end of his shift, all the other residents had left, he said.
“No one else,” he said, “except Stephanie and Deshawn.”
Colette Deneumoustier, Moulton’s supervisor, said Moulton was very bright, and eager to learn. Deneumoustier was buying items for the house on the morning Moulton was killed and called her to ask her a question. Moulton did not answer. On a second try a bit later, there was still no answer.
When Deneumoustier returned to the group home, she heard the fire alarm and called the Fire Department. Around back, she saw what looked like blood in the melting snow.
A Lynn police officer was the last witness to take the stand Friday and described finding Moulton’s body. As the prosecutor showed pictures of the scene, Moulton’s relatives wiped away tears.