A 30-year-old man was sentenced Monday to spend the rest of his life behind bars for killing a mental health worker at a group home in Revere in 2011.
It took a Suffolk Superior Court jury two days to convict Deshawn James Chappell on Monday of first-degree murder, which carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Chappell and Stephanie Moulton, 25, were alone inside the group home when he beat her, stabbed her, and slit her neck. Then, he dumped her body in a church parking lot.
“We’re just glad this part’s over. Now, we have to start working on the other part: fighting to get the laws changed, so it doesn’t happen again,” Kimberly Flynn, Moulton’s mother, said standing next to her daughter’s father, Robert Moulton, outside the courtroom. “Nothing is the same without Stephanie. I’m so empty inside; I lost half of myself.”
Flynn told the court that her son’s 21st birthday is approaching, but he doesn’t want to celebrate without his sister, who loved Halloween and often dressed the family pets for the occasion. Moulton dressed her mother’s cat in a Superman costume, and the family dog — a pit bull — wore a tutu and crown.
Moulton was killed Jan. 20, 2011. An aspiring nursing student engaged to be married, she was months into her job as a social worker at a group home run by North Suffolk Mental Health Association, which has a contract with the state.
The group home is designed for people who do not need extensive support and seeks to help them live independently, employees testified during the two-week trial.
Chappell, who was 27 at the time, had a history of mental illness and violence, including the vicious beating of his stepfather, for which he had served a prison sentence.
During the trial, Chappell’s defense attorney, Daniel Solomon, told the jury that his client is a schizophrenic who heard voices that “told him to do things.”
According to court records, Chappell’s family raised concerns with the group home days before the slaying that he was not taking prescribed medications. And before the attack, Chappell had an angry confrontation with a staff member about a bedroom window, the employee testified.
But Moulton is said to have known none of that when she was left alone with him that morning.
Her family is now pushing for a law that would require mental health workers who have direct contact with potentially violent clients to be given all relevant information about the person.
The judge, defense, and Moulton’s family all seemed to agree Monday that there were systematic breakdowns preceding that Thursday morning slaying two years ago.
“This is a case with no winners,” Judge Jeffrey Locke said as he sentenced Chappell on Monday afternoon. Changes, he said, offer no recompense “for Stephanie’s life, but it shows that her death did have some effect on state bureaucracy.”
Solomon, Chappell’s attorney, called Moulton’s death an “incomprehensible tragedy” and said “the Department of Mental Health manifestly failed in their obligations to every single person” involved.
Flynn said her family has sued North Suffolk, which was cited by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration in 2011 for failing to provide adequate safeguards against workplace violence.
The mental health contractor agreed to pay a $7,000 fine and implement comprehensive procedures and policies to keep workers safe, including a buddy system for employees, behavior logs for clients, and an alarm system when help is required.
Outside the courtroom, Flynn said that on the day of their daughter’s funeral, she and Robert Moulton decided this would never happen again.
Their daughter was petite, about 5 foot 1 inch and 110 pounds.
“All the girls coming in and introducing themselves to us, saying they worked with her were just as small,” she said. “So we made a promise, right then and there, that we’d make sure this didn’t happen again.”Akilah Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @akjohnson1922