Tennessee man who killed prison counselor found dead after officials move to schedule execution

PHOTO: Stephen Hugueley, TDOC via ethanb822.medium.com.

A Tennessee prisoner sentenced to death for the 2002 slaying of a corrections counselor was found dead Friday morning.

Stephen Hugueley, 53, was pronounced dead at the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution at 2:53 a.m. Officials said his death was due to “apparent natural causes”, however, noted that the exact cause is pending official determination by a local medical examiner.

Hugueley had committed several violent crimes across the span of his life before he found himself in the RMSI facility. In 1986, he was given a sentence of life in prison after he gunned down his mother and dumped her body in a river. In 1991, he killed a fellow inmate — and stabbed another just six months later.

In 2002, according to Tennessee prosecutors, Hardeman County Correctional Facility counselor Delbert Steed entered the “F” pod to counsel inmates on Thursday, January 17. As Steed sat down at a table, Hugueley approached him from behind, stabbing him nonstop with a homemade knife.

Hugueley stabbed Steed a total of 36 times, stopped when his weapon broke, and surrendered to correctional officers. The counselor was transported to the infirmary, the blade of the knife still stuck in his back, where he later died.

Hugueley waived his rights and spoke to an internal affairs investigator, admitting to his role in the entire attack. He said he had initially planned to kill Steed over a week prior by attacking “the most vital organs first . . . the heart and the lung.” Hugueley had fashioned the murder weapon out of an 11-inch piece of metal he snapped off of a laundry cart and sharpened with a belt sander. The handle was made out of a dry-erase pen.

At trial, Hugueley went into great detail to describe his deadly attack on Steed. In a letter to the local District Attorney, he said he murdered the counselor with “malicious intent” and had no regret or remorse for the crime because Steed “disrespected” him. He also said he would’ve killed others if his weapon hadn’t been rendered useless.

“I was stabbing Counselor Steed. He was laying on the floor, stomach down. I was trying to drive it plumb through and hit the concrete below him,” Hugueley said. “That was my intentions.”

Mary Harris, a correctional employee working in the pod’s control room that day, testified that she witnessed Hugueley stab Steed before advancing on a female officer “with the knife drawn back like he was going to stab her.”

After a male officer named Donald Watkins entered the room, Hugueley stabbed Steed once or twice more before allowing himself to be taken into custody.

A pathologist testifying for the state characterized Hugueley’s homemade weapon as one that would “cause significant pain on a living, awake individual” and said the manner used to kill Steed was “overkill” with the infliction of “excessive injury done to the body far in excess of what would be necessary to cause death.”

A jury would eventually find Hugueley guilty on all counts and he was sentenced to death. On Tuesday, Hugueley published a statement to the court in a federal lawsuit he filed against the Tennessee Department of Correction over his solitary confinement.

Hugueley claimed he had been held in solitary for 18 years and accused prison officials of compelling him to “commit suicide like my father” or “coerce me into settling for less than I want.”

“The defendants and their predecessors have used, and continue to use every imaginable delay tactic that they can conceive to continue denying me any immediate and meaningful relief from the psychological and physical torture I have been subjected to these 18 years in solitary confinement,” he said. “Every day that they can delay providing me any meaningful relief is a good day for the defendants and a psychologically and physically horrifying day for me.”

Later that same day, officials filed a motion to set his execution date.

An attorney for Hugueley, Amy Harwell, published a statement through several mainstream media outlets confirming his death.

“He had been suicidal for years,” said Harwell. “But TDOC is telling me they do not think it was suicide.”

When Hugueley was held in the SHU, he “had severely limited interaction with other humans and was systematically denied access to treatment and basic health care,” Harwell said. “Years of this kind of abuse took a tremendous physical and mental toll upon Stephen. That Stephen withstood this treatment for so long is a testament to the strength of his spirit.”