FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – An Allen Superior Court judge sentenced a 38-year-old man to 85 years in prison after he was previously found guilty by a jury for killing a 20-year-old woman in May.
Steven Atkins leaned back in his chair and smirked during nearly the entire sentencing in front of Judge Fran Gull. His attorney, Jared Marks, was left to ask for a lenient sentence, describing Atkins childhood on the streets of Chicago as one with no strong figures to lead him and where he was stuck with bad influences.
“He’s not had the upbringing most people have had,” Marks told sentencing judge Fran Gull.
Atkins said he was trying to help his victim, Kiera Zepke, a 20-year-old whom he claimed to love in text messages he sent her, but slammed in court, saying she was involved in drugs and double cross.
“She was talking about me, asking me for money and told them (other people) my business. But it’s all good,” Atkins said.
It wasn’t all good. Taking into consideration his extensive criminal history in Indiana and Illinois, Gull gave him the maximum sentence for murder – 65 years- and an additional 20 years for a firearm enhancement. He also owes more than $7,000 in restitution to the victim’s mother, Lindsey Erickson.
Atkins was convicted of shooting Zepke to death after running up an alley and surprising Zepke who was parked behind 1304 Lillie Street on May 9 around 11:30 p.m. Her boyfriend, Michael Rau, Jr., was sitting in the passenger seat of Zepke’s black Chevy Malibu when he and Zepke saw a red beam over their left shoulder.
They recognized Atkins, who continues to maintain his innocence.
“Oh my god, you scared me,” Rau heard Zepke say as she opened the driver’s side door to get out and saw Atkins outside her vehicle. Atkins lowered the gaiter he was wearing, told them he was going to kill them, raised his 9mm handgun and fired at least nine shots, before fleeing north in the alley behind the home, Rau testified at Atkins’ trial in mid-August.
Zepke’s grandmother, Sherri Erickson, said her granddaughter would never see her son reach any milestones. Zepke’s son was seven months old when his mother was killed.
“We are still in utter disbelief,” Zepke’s grandmother told the judge. “I relive the call from my daughter, her mother. I will never see or talk to her again.” Zepke’s life “was not his to take, no one’s right to take.”
“We cannot call this person a human, let alone a man.,” Sherri Erickson said, calling him a monster. “He shows no remorse or concern for the sanctity of life”
It was Zepke’s sister, Lydia Zepke, who said she couldn’t explain her grief.
“I’ve never felt more pain in her life,” Zepke said. It took her more than a month to work again, but she was only allowed three days of bereavement leave. “I still miss days because I just can’t get up.”
Her sister, Kiera, was “the only person who came close to understanding me,” she said. “I’ll never have a lunch date again, never have a mini-concert in the car. It took weeks to play music again, even longer to sing again.”
Lindsey Erickson, Kiera’s mother, arrived at the mic with a small, worn stuffed animal while Atkins leaned back and smiled as they spoke. Lindsey said there was a hole where her daughter existed. “She’s there. We just can’t see her.”
She was only 20, her mother said. “Everything she had was taken away by Mr. Atkins,” who “should have his freedom taken away as well.”