Lexington man disappears minutes before guilty verdict for sex crimes

NORMAN – On Wednesday, 32-year-old Joseph Stephens was about to learn his sentence in a Cleveland County courtroom for sex crimes involving a child, but he didn’t show up.

His attorney says Stephens walked into the courtroom with his family, then said he was heading out to his car to grab something, and he never came back.

Now the search is on for a man convicted of two counts of forcible sodomy, and one count of lewd acts with a child.

“We will do whatever we need to do to bring him to justice. He left before he was convicted by a jury, but a jury did convict him of these charges,” Cleveland County Sheriff Todd Gibson told News 4. “They are very serious charges, and we’re not going to stop looking for him. The easiest thing he can do would be to just turn himself in now.”

Stephens’ brother-in-law Skip Steadham says he went to the trial from beginning to end, and it was difficult to listen to all of the testimony describing Stephens’ sexual abuse of a child over a nearly four-year period.

“Having to listen to these girls testify, this young child. It was horrible, I never,” Steadham said. “You shouldn’t hear a child saying some of the things that this man, I mean this child had done.”

Stephens was not in police custody because he had bonded out.

According to the Cleveland County District Attorney’s Office, Stephen’s bail was originally set for $75,000 dollars, but a judge later lowered his bond to $15,000.

Steadham says he couldn’t help but think back to what Stephens told him last October after he didn’t show up for the sentencing.

“I’ll never forget it. He said Skip, I’m not going to prison for these f***ing charges,” Steadham said. “I know what happens to people that go to prison with these, I’ll be a f***ing rag-doll. I’ll kill myself, and anyone that tries to stop me before that happens.”

The Cleveland County Sheriff’s office says the main goal now is finding Stephens as fast as possible.

“He in his own mind knows what he has done. So we are always concerned that when a person is running from the law that sometimes they can become desperate,” Sheriff Gibson said. “When people get desperate they do dangerous things, and we just want to get him back into custody.”

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