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Death impacts investigation

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Owner of septic tank where human bones found dies

Jerry Stevens, the "person of interest" in the disappearance of Bridgett Juanita Sellars and her possible murder, died at his sister's home in Jonesboro Jan. 10.

According to the Craighead County Coroner's Office, Stevens died of natural causes. Stevens, 47, was a cancer patient and had been under hospice care, according to David Huffmaster, criminal investigator at the Sharp County Sheriff's Office.

Izard County Sheriff Tate Lawrence had advised Stevens to stay with his sister, who Lawrence said identified herself as his power of attorney. "We didn't want to deal with two people at two locations," he said.

Lawrence also said that he thought it would work better for Izard County if Stevens were with his sister during the investigation.

Stevens' death will impact the investigation, according to the investigator. "We've retrieved some evidence that he might have been involved in her disappearance. You can't prosecute someone that's no longer with us."

Lawrence said that the case will remain priority until it can be determined whether it will remain a missing person case or a homicide case.

Huffmaster said Stevens killed his father Sept. 18, 1975. Stevens, then 16, was not charged in the incident, which Huffmaster said was likely a justifiable homicide.

Human bones were found in a septic tank at Stevens' Alderman Road property on Nov. 25, 2005. The tank is in Izard County, about 100 yards from the Sharp County line, and both sheriff's departments have been working on the case.

The remains are suspected to be those of Sellars, who disappeared May 9, 2003. Sellars, then 21, was last seen walking down Peace Valley Road after a discussion with her aunt, Becky Jones Dement, who currently has sole custody of Sellars' children, who are now 3, 4 and 5 years old.

Samples from the bones and from Sellars' mother, Cynthia Wellman, were taken to determine whether there is a DNA match. The state crime lab has yet to determine whether the bones are Sellars' or not.

Stevens had been convicted of sexual misconduct involving Sellars in 1995 in Izard County Circuit Court. He pleaded guilty to charges of sexual solicitation of a child and was sentenced to one year in jail, suspended. Also, he was fined $600 and ordered to pay court costs and contribute $5 to the victims' reparations fund.



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