Portland woman’s conviction upheld in death of child’s father

The Indiana Court of Appeals has upheld the murder conviction of a woman who arranged the killing of her young daughter’s father amid a custody battle over the child.

A Jay County judge sentenced Esther Jane Stephen, 31, in June to 55 years in prison after a jury convicted her in the January 2020 slaying of Shea Michael Briar, 31.

In her appeal, the Portland woman argued that the evidence in her case did not justify her conviction and that she deserved a shorter sentence, the (Muncie) Star Press reported.

The appeals court disagreed in a 3-0 ruling issued Friday. Judge Elizabeth Tavitas wrote in the decision that while Stephen had no prior criminal record, “she organized Briar’s killing with the depravity of a hardened criminal, undeterred by second thoughts.”

Court records show Stephen and Shelby Hiestand picked up Briar at his Portland home and drove him to a rural bridge. Once there, Stephen distracted Briar while Hiestand shot him in the back with a rifle.

Hiestand, 20, was also convicted of murder and sentenced to 55 years in prison.

Another accomplice, Hannah Knapke, 20, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced Wednesday to 10 years in prison for her role in Briar’s death.

At the time of Briar’s killing, Stephen was head coach of the softball team at Fort Recovery (Ohio) High School, Hiestand was her assistant coach and Knapke had played on the team.

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