16-year-old girl gets life in Melrose murder

Morgan Leppert and another were convicted of killing a disabled man.

Morgan Leppert watches the members of the jury as lead prosecutor for the state Chris France delivers his closing arguments in Leppert's murder trial for the 2008 slaying of James Stewart in Melrose.

The Associated Press
Published: Thursday, October 1, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, September 30, 2009 at 11:12 p.m.

A 16-year-old girl convicted last month of first-degree murder will serve life in prison for staking out the home of a disabled Melrose man and killing him before fleeing to Texas with her then-boyfriend.

Morgan Leppert received a mandatory sentence to life behind bars in a Putnam County courtroom Tuesday.

Earlier this year, Toby Lowry, 23, Leppert's co-defendant, entered a guilty plea to murder to avoid a death sentence in the case.

He now is serving a life sentence and was being held at the Reception and Medical Center in Union County, according to the Florida Department of Corrections.

Due to her age, prosecutors could not seek the death penalty for Leppert - who was 15 at the time James Thomas Stewart, 66, was killed last year.

But she was tried as an adult.

A jury deliberated about 90 minutes before finding her guilty, according to the Associated Press.

Leppert also was convicted on charges of burglary with assault or battery and robbery with a deadly weapon, said Chris Kelly, an assistant state attorney with State Attorney's Office for the Seventh Judicial Circuit.

Stewart, who was born without hands and was hard of hearing, was slain at his home on April 25, 2008.

Deputies at the time said he apparently had been targeted by the couple due to his disabilities and age.

He died from suffocation but also had been beaten and robbed, according to an autopsy.

The pair stole his pickup truck and cash. The two were later located while panhandling in El Paso, Texas, in early May, soon after an Amber Alert was issued for Leppert.

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