Opening statements in Jeff Steen murder trial reveal details of attack
By Shavonne Walker
SALISBURY — J.D. Furr was known to carry a .25-caliber Beretta in his front pocket. On the day of his death, he carried that gun and a pocketknife. But he never had the opportunity to defend himself with either as he was bludgeoned to death with a potato hoe.
Jeff Steen, 43, is accused of brutally beating the 78-year-old and trying to kill his mother, Sandra Steen, on Nov. 5, 2013, at Furr’s River Road farm in Richfield.
The final jurors were selected Wednesday morning after a two-and-a-half-day process. On Wednesday afternoon, jurors heard opening statements from both Assistant District Attorney Tim Gould and defense attorney Darrin Jordan.
Sandra Steen, now 65, also testified briefly, describing the River Road property and her father’s demeanor. The farm is isolated, with one of Furr’s nearest neighbors residing about a mile away, she said.
Sandra Steen will continue on the witness stand this morning.
Gould told jurors in his opening statement that J.D. Furr, “loved that farm.” He bought the farm in the 1950s. He once raised hogs and, before his death, cattle. Gould said even at age 78, Furr still took care of the farm. Sandra Steen, who had moved to her father’s farm from Norwood a couple of years before his death, often helped tend the farm. When he could, Jeff Steen also helped at the farm, Gould said.
Gould described the injuries Furr received, including cuts to the face, a broken neck, and broken ribs and sternum. A cut to Furr’s head nearly split his ear, the prosecutor said.
Furr’s body was found lying outside his home the morning of Nov. 6, 2013. The garden tool was beside the body, as was his cashless wallet. Sandra Steen was left for dead in the gravel driveway.
“The defendant viciously assaulted his mother,” Gould said.
Sandra Steen had a skull fracture to the back of the head, broken ribs and other injuries. She was left outside in 31-degree weather for 12 hours.
Gould indicated that Sandra Steen had no memory of how she received those injuries.
“She can’t tell you how she survived,” he said.
Jeff Steen and his son Jordan had been at the farm Nov. 5, 2013, to repair a ceiling fan. The two left to get parts for the fan, but only Jeff Steen returned. He, his mother and J.D. Furr spoke in the kitchen about a loan that Sandra had gotten on her son’s behalf. She told Jeff she had made the first payment but she had no intention of making the rest, Gould said.
She went outside to an outbuilding dubbed “Nana’s Place” where she would sew and read and felt someone come up behind her. The person began choking her, Gould said.
Gould said Sandra Steen at first thought her son was “picking on her” until the choke became tighter. She told Rowan County investigators she was choked and that she scratched her assailant and passed out. She awoke and tried to crawl her way back to the house overnight.
Gould said she made it only about 8 feet and called out to her father, having no idea he was dead.
Sandra Steen was found alive by Jeff Steen the next morning. She told investigators when she came to, her son was standing over her. Jeff Steen told investigators he found his mother and made the call to 911.
Gould hinted that the murder of J.D. Furr and attempted murder of Sandra Steen were motivated by money.
Gould told jurors that despite working constantly, Jeff Steen never had any money. His then-girlfriend was continuously pressing on him to help with the bills, and he owed his mother more than $6,000 plus the loan she had taken, Gould said. He owed his grandfather money as well.
A week before the murder, Jeff Steen had gotten notice that his car insurance was terminated because of nonpayment. He had $3.64 in his bank account, and he was about to be laid off at Norandal, the prosecutor said.
Gould said Jeff Steen and others believed if J.D. Furr died that his farm and money would go to Sandra Steen. And if she died, those assets would then go to Jeff.
J.D. Furr, who lived during the Great Depression, was frugal and saved much of his money. Sandra Steen would testify that although her father saved his money, he also gave money to family and others.
Jeff Steen’s attorney, Darrin Jordan, said in his opening arguments that there is no disputing that J.D. Furr was murdered and Sandra Steen was attacked. Jordan said the question is whether Jeff Steen is guilty of those crimes
He said his client loved his grandfather, and J.D. Furr loved his grandson. He said Sandra Steen loves her son and Jeff Steen loves his mother.
Jordan said Rowan County detectives interviewed Sandra Steen three times on Nov. 6, 2013, again the next day and once again Nov. 13, 2013.
“In every one of those interviews, she did not say Jeff Steen attacked her,” Jordan said.
He said Sandra Steen first told investigators her attacker wore a mask and, during another interview, told them her attacker was smaller and shorter than her son. She told investigators she scratched her attacker on the arm.
“What if we told you Jeff had a scratch on his arm?” Jordan said investigators asked Sandra Steen.
She continued to say it wasn’t Jeff, the attorney told jurors.
Sandra Steen told investigators “if you think Jeff did this, you’re barking up the wrong tree,” Jordan said.
He said it wasn’t until Nov. 21, 2013, when detectives presented Sandra Steen with a reason why they believed her son tried to kill her that she finally said she thought Jeff Steen was the attacker.
Rowan County detectives charged Steen two weeks after the incident with murder and attempted murder. He has been in the Rowan County Detention Center since his Nov. 21, 2013, arrest.
“In the end, Jeff’s going to tell you he didn’t do this. He’s going to look you in the eye,” Jordan said.
Sandra Steen told the court her father didn’t like change and wouldn’t even let her clean because he knew where everything was at his house. She said she moved to help her father after he had congestive heart failure. He suffered nerve damage after a car wreck in which he lost control of his vehicle and it overturned.
She said her father served as a military police officer during World War II. He worked at Alcoa until he retired early at age 60. He then began a house painting business with some former Alcoa co-workers.
J.D. Furr sold corn and cattle to make money, Sandra Steen said. She said she was raised on the farm and knew the layout of the property well.
Sandra Steen will resume her testimony at 9:30 this morning.
Contact reporter Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253.