Judge accepts voodoo defense in slaying of common-law wife Pa. man testifies he feared she was casting evil spell


PHILADELPHIA -- Theodore Stevens was convinced that his failing heart, worsening diabetes, growing dementia and the constant tingling in his legs were the result of an evil spell cast by his common-law wife of 20 years.

He lived in fear that some unknown force sent by his wife would one day kill him.

So one morning, Stevens, half-blind and still recovering from recent heart surgery, grabbed his .38-caliber pistol and shot her once in the chest.

On Tuesday, a Common Pleas judge believed his voodoo defense.

Judge Lisa Richette cleared the 69-year-old, who uses a wheelchair, of murder and convicted him of involuntary manslaughter and other minor offenses. She ruled the shooting an accident.

A voodoo high priestess and a priest of the African-based religion Santeria convinced the judge of the panic that grips a person who believes a spell, or "ju-ju," has been cast on him.

"Just thinking that someone is doing work on you can cause you to have a heart attack," testified Santero Ricardo Fresses. "It can affect the mind. Voodoo is very strong."

During the two-day trial, Stevens told the judge he lived in daily terror. Eno Bailey, he said, threatened him for several years, torturing him with evil spells.

She told him she would fix him, he said, just as she had fixed her ex-boyfriend and his girlfriend with black magic.

The ex-boyfriend died of an asthma attack and his girlfriend of cancer. Stevens believed Bailey was behind the deaths.

Stevens wanted desperately to repel the dark spell. He went to an occult store and bought candles that he burned to ward off the evil.

After the verdict, Stevens told Richette, "Thank you, judge," his voice quivering as he cried.

Stevens is out on bail until his sentencing, which is scheduled for February. He faces 8 1/2 to 16 1/2 years in prison, but those close to the case doubt he will serve much, if any, jail time.

But friends and relatives of Bailey, the slain mother of four, cried angrily in court.

"They don't feel justice was done," said prosecutor Sheila Woods-Skipper. "They think it was a sympathy verdict because of his age and health."

Pub Date: 11/27/97

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