The Philadelphia Inquirer

May 16, 2002

Inmate pleads guilty to soliciting a hitman

Patricia Ann Stevenson was in jail for a hammer attack on her boss's fiancée. She sought to kill them and a trooper.

By Kathleen Brady Shea
Inquirer Staff Writer
The Philadelphia Inquirer

She was a bookkeeper with a polished, professional demeanor; but when her job was eliminated, she bludgeoned her replacement with a hammer.

She was a concerned prison activist who kept track of the medical attention paid to her fellow inmates; she also used her incarceration time to try to arrange the assassinations of the witnesses who sent her there.

She's Patricia Ann Stevenson, 43, of West Grove, and yesterday she pleaded guilty to charges of solicitation to commit homicide, making false reports to police, and receiving stolen property. She pleaded no contest to charges that she recklessly endangered her children.

Additional, similar charges were dropped to spare the children from having to testify against their mother, according to Deputy District Attorney Elizabeth Pitts.

"The [remaining] charges accurately reflect the defendant's course of conduct after she was arrested and convicted," Deputy District Attorney Christian Trowbridge said.

Stevenson was convicted in September 2000 of striking Roseanne Puppo four times with a hammer at Capital Specialties Inc., a Penn Township, Chester County, food wholesaler. Puppo had just replaced Stevenson as the firm's bookkeeper.

Robert Starkey, the firm's owner, said he told Stevenson in July 1999 that the business was losing money and he could no longer afford to pay her. He had hired Puppo, his fiancée, because she volunteered to take the job without pay.

During the trial, Puppo testified that she was working at the computer on Stevenson's last workday - Aug. 19, 1999 - when Stevenson attacked her from behind.

"Before I knew it, I was hearing loud thumps," Puppo testified. "I was paralyzed and not sure what was happening; I could not move my body."

Wade Hess, a salesman at the firm, came into the room and stopped the attack. Puppo suffered a skull fracture and head lacerations in the assault, according to trial testimony.

In December 1999, Starkey said he figured out why his company was losing money, and police charged Stevenson with embezzling more than $391,000. Those charges are being handled by federal prosecutors in Philadelphia.

While out on bail on the aggravated-assault charge, prosecutors say, Stevenson had one of her sons steal items, including a knife, from Starkey's home. Police said Stevenson then stabbed herself in the abdomen and told police Starkey had attacked her.

Once she was in prison awaiting trial, Stevenson started looking for a hired killer, police said they learned from an informant. That tip led police to arrange for Stevenson to call an undercover trooper posing as a contract killer on Feb. 21, 2001.

According to police, Stevenson offered to pay $14,000 to eliminate Starkey, Puppo and Michael Romano, the state trooper who arrested her.

While in jail, Stevenson served as a cell-block representative and met regularly with Alexine Atherton, a member of the Pennsylvania Prison Society, a prison watchdog agency.

During one visit with Atherton, Stevenson presented such a polished, altruistic persona that a reporter was prompted to inquire later about her history.

Atherton said she tries not to be influenced by an inmate's past so she did not know specifics. But then she paused, acknowledging that she did know the charges were "pretty serious."

Stevenson's codefendant in the attempted-homicide case is her husband, John Stevenson, 43, also of West Grove, who has shown signs of distancing himself from his wife.

In addition to filing for divorce, John Stevenson has petitioned the court for custody of the couple's four boys, ranging in age from 6 to 18.

On Feb. 14, mediator Patricia Moccia noted that the custody case was postponed "awaiting the outcome of charges against both parents."

Pitts said medical records substantiate a tragic pattern of abuse of the Stevenson children. In addition to having knives and scissors thrown at them, the boys were regularly beaten with a 2-by-4 on which their parents had painted "The Terminator," Pitts said.

The boys have been living in Cape Coral, Fla., with their maternal grandmother, Darlene McKnight, and their maternal aunt, Nancy Abele. Pitts said the boys want no contact with their mother.

In his custody petition, John Stevenson argued that the children were only supposed to spend a summer in Florida following their mother's incarceration and that because McKnight and Abele are witnesses in the attempted-homicide case, he cannot contact them and therefore has no access to his children, according to court documents.

Patricia Ann Stevenson received 61/2 to 13 years for the hammer assault. However, since she was on probation for a 1993 forgery charge at the time, she received an additional 2 to 4 years for the probation violation.

Yesterday's plea could add as many as 18 years to Stevenson's sentence under standard sentencing guidelines; however, Judge Thomas G. Gavin indicated that he would take into account the totality of Stevenson's sentence and give her less than that.

Stevenson will be sentenced June 17, at which time public defender David B. Miller is expected to present psychiatric testimony.

Contact Kathleen Brady Shea at 610-701-7625 or kbrady@phillynews.com.