(2-26-22) A petition for post-conviction relief was filed this week in Jay Circuit Court by Esther Jane Stephen. Stephen was found guilty in the January 2020 slaying of Shea Michael Briar. Briar was the father of her daughter.

Stephen’s petition includes –

  • Accused Jay Circuit Court Judge Brian Hutchison of unspecified “misconduct” at her sentencing hearing.
  • Maintained the custody dispute with Briar “was not supposed to be talked about” and was “used against me.”
  • Stephen suggested that co-defendant Hannah Knapke was shown “favoritism” by authorities
  • Wrote that she was convicted by a “biased” jury, with one juror having a “conflict of interest to several people on the jury and the prosecutor.”
  • Said her defense attorney, Jill Gonzalez — who died a few weeks after Stephen’s trial — had not shown her a plea agreement was purportedly offered in the case, refused to pursue a change of venue and was on “several medications” during the trial.
  • A statement by Shelby Hiestand, who fired the shot that killed Briar, that “she did not ever get asked by me (Stephen) to commit the crime she did” had never been entered into court. Steven wrote the “only evidence of what happened at (the shooting scene) was my statement saying I did not know Hiestand was going to do that.”

A statement from a member of Stephen’s family was submitted with the petition. It alleged that her attorney Jill Gonzalez:

“opted out of visiting (the incarcerated Stephen) to go over important information concerning her trial and didn’t even call her to discuss things.”

“Many normal issues that should have been looked into were not, such as witness depositions and the background of the entire case,”

Judge Hutchison issued an order assigning the state public defender’s office to represent Stephen in her post-conviction relief effort.

Stephen is being held at the Rockville Correctional Facility, with a projected release date in April 2061, when she would be 70 years old.