FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — An Allen County jury found a 38-year-old man guilty of murder in the May 9 shooting death of a 20-year-old he claimed to be in love with.

Steven Atkins, who gave his address in the 800 block of Huestis Street when he was arrested on May 10, was convicted of shooting to death Kiera Zepke in the back driveway of 1304 Lillie Street. After shooting her as she was getting out of her black Chevy Malibu, Atkins fled north in the alleyway behind the home, setting off a whirl of police detective work after two eyewitnesses identified him as the shooter.

Using high-tech digital technology, the Fort Wayne Police Department’s vice & narcotics unit tracked his phone and found he was in the “immediate vicinity” of the shooting just prior to 11:38 p.m. when the 911 call came in.

The unit continued to track the phone and arrested Atkins at 3 p.m. the day after the homicide at a home in the 3500 block of Reed Street.

Kiera Zepke, was killed by a 9 mm gun on May 9.

Defense attorney David Felts closed the Atkins case throwing doubt on the testimony of the two eyewitnesses – landlady Sharon Hagler-Ellis, who said she saw Atkins through the blinds of her back bedroom window through her binoculars, and Michael Rau Jr., sitting in the passenger seat next to Zepke.

Rau said Atkins pulled his mask down before he shot at them and told them he was going to kill them.

As in many cases, no murder weapon was found.

Felts and Jerad Bryant Marks, the other defense attorney, allowed their client to take the stand. Confident and at times, smirking, he gave his alibi saying he was with his girlfriend at the time, at her mother’s home “up north,” even though the digital phone evidence showed otherwise.

Chief Deputy Prosecutor Tom Chaille walked the jury through the events that led to the shooting. First, there was the argument over the “candy machine,” he said with a wink. The candy machine aka pill press for drugs was removed from Hagler-Ellis’s home “without her knowledge,” and Zepke unfortunately told her where it was, Chaille said.

“He was mad because he didn’t want Sharon to know that,” Chaille said. It seemed to start a string of acts that included shooting up the back bedroom window of Hagler-Ellis’ Lillie Street home on March 30 just before 4 a.m.

Steven Atkins, 38, is on trial for the shooting death of a 20-year-old girl.
Steven Atkins, 38, was on trial for the shooting death of a 20-year-old girl.

Hagler-Ellis reported the incident to police and told them it was Atkins. Texts at that time were threatening, including a message from Atkins saying “Two orphans are better than one,” referring to Zepke’s 5-month-old son and Hagler-Ellis’s son.

At 9:35 p.m. on that date, Atkins sent a text accusing Zepke of “telling my business. If I lose my (expletive), you know what I’m going to do with you.”

The prosecution also found a video of Atkins holding a 9mm gun proving “that he owned it on that date.”

On April 18, Atkins switched course and declared his love for Zepke. “I’m sorry you don’t feel about me the same as I feel about you. I’m in love with you.”

On May 3, Zepke described Atkins as threatening, creepy and weird and told a detective Atkins shot up the Lillie Street house. On May 8, Atkins texted her about her car and messages he found on it and accused her of not being loyal.

On the day of the shooting, friend and/or business associate Daniel Logan, now an Allen County inmate, testified he dropped Atkins off at a gas station on Oxford Street and he was carrying a 9mm gun.

“Twelve hours later, Kiera is dead,” Chaille said, and FWPD was thinking he would be leaving on the early morning bus to Chicago out of Fort Wayne. That was the first place they pinged the cell phone data.

Just after the shooting, at 12:07 a.m. May 10, Atkins sent a text to Logan.

“What are you doing? I just told you I’m in a jam.” Logan said he “sounded desperate.”

But it goes on. On June 30 at the Allen County Jail, he was seen walking by the holding cell where Rau was seated and made a gesture like he was shooting a gun. It was caught on camera and shown to the jury.

On July 24, he made a call from jail to his presumed girlfriend. He wanted her to tell the police he was at her mother’s house.

“It’s the only way I’m going to beat this thing,” Atkins told her.

“Beat this thing,” deputy prosecutor Tasha Lee said in closings twice. “That is not the same thing as saying he didn’t do it.”

Getting so close to them, pulling down his mask, “he wanted his face to be the last thing they saw.”

Atkins was charged with murder and criminal recklessness with the gun enhancement of using a firearm in the commission of a crime. He was found guilty on all three counts.

Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 6.