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Self-defense or cold blood?: Stephens on trial for murder of Joshua Pipho

prosecution says it was malicious, defense attorney says client was protecting himself

Posted: October 6, 2010 8:26 p.m.
Updated: October 7, 2010 4:30 a.m.
Michael Dean Stephens Michael Dean Stephens
Michael Dean Stephens

SAN FERNANDO — On the night of Nov. 23, 2007, Michael Dean Stephens allegedly stabbed two men a total of more than 30 times and hit them both with his car in Stevenson Ranch. One died, the other barely survived.

On Wednesday, prosecutors said in their opening statement that Stephens deliberately killed 20-year-old Joshua Pipho, of Canyon Country, and seriously wounded Chad Weitz after Weitz smashed Stephens’ windshield during a fight.

Stephens’ defense attorney said his client was frightened and acting in self-defense after Pipho lunged at him.

Lawyers will have weeks to present their cases to the San Fernando Superior Court jury that will ultimately decide the former Valencia High School student’s fate.

‘I’m going to kill you’
In her opening statement, Deputy District Attorney Mary Sedgwick gave her account of what happened the night Pipho was murdered and his friend Weitz was left in intensive care at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital.

The weekend after Thanksgiving, while schools were still on fall break, a group of men met at the apartment complex expecting to go to a party at about 11:30 p.m. in the Diamond Head apartment complex in Stevenson Ranch.  

Stephens and a group of his friends drove to the apartment and told the group to leave and damaged someone’s car, Sedgwick said. After most of the people left, Pipho, Weitz and a group of their friends went back to the apartment complex to confront Stephens and his friends.

A fight started. At one point, someone attacked Pipho with a baseball bat, which Pipho wrested away. Weitz then used the bat to shatter the windshield of Stephens’s car.

Pipho, Weitz and their friends started to walk away when they thought the fight was over.

That’s when Stephens got into his car, Sedgwick said.

Sedgwick described the violent attack:

Stephens knocked down Pipho with his car, got out and stabbed him approximately 16 times — twice in the neck, in the chest, arm and abdomen.

While Pipho was still on the ground, Stephens kicked him in the head.

A woman who heard the fight from her bedroom went to her window and shouted at Stephens to stop. While Stephens went back to his car, Weitz and a group of people gathered around Pipho to help and call 911.

Stephens got back into his car and made a sharp right turn onto the sidewalk toward Pipho, scattering the people trying to help him and dragging Pipho’s body about 4 feet.

Weitz tried to run away, Sedgwick said, but Stephens rammed him with his car. Weitz rolled onto the car’s hood and was tossed into a planter after Stephens crashed into a curb in the apartment complex.

“At this point, the defendant got out of the car and yelled to Chad Weitz, ‘I’m going to kill you, mother-(expletive),’” Sedgwick said. 

Weitz got up and tried to get away but collapsed. Stephens got out of his car and proceeded to stab Weitz 16 times.

Stephens went home, attempted to burn his clothes and clean his knife, Sedgwick said. He was arrested three days later.

Weitz survived his injuries after getting several blood transfusions at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital.

Pipho died at the scene.

‘Didn’t want to fight’
Stephens’ defense attorney Peter J. Korn said his client was acting in self-defense and never intended to get into a fight.

Korn said Pipho, Weitz and a large group of up to 30 men tried to fight Stephens and his friends.

“My client and his friends didn’t want to fight,” Korn said. “This big group of guys came marching down the street en masse. My client was in his car talking to his girlfriend because he was scared of this big group of guys.”

The group came closer, and Pipho began fighting with Stephens’ friends, Korn said. That’s when Stephens got out of his car.

“Josh Pipho was a very brazen and excellent fighter,” Korn said. “My client had seen what kind of a fighter Josh Pipho is.”

Korn said Pipho lunged at Stephens first, and that Stephens didn’t intentionally hit Weitz or Pipho with his car.

“This is not some kind of cold-blooded situation,” Korn said. “This is a horrible situation that got out of control. My client was scared, his emotions were heightened. We all wished it never happened.”


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