RALEIGH — When Joshua Andrew Stepp called 911 Sunday evening, he was yelling into the phone that his 10-month-old stepdaughter Cheyenne Yarley had choked on toilet paper and was not breathing. Her heart was still beating, he said.
After several attempts to calm Stepp, the dispatcher talked him through emergency measures until paramedics could arrive at the Villas apartments in West Raleigh where he lived with the baby, his 4-year-old daughter from a previous relationship and Cheyenne's mother. Despite resuscitation efforts, Cheyenne was later pronounced dead at WakeMed in Raleigh.
On Tuesday, Stepp stood in a Wake County district courtroom, charged with first-degree sex offense with a child and first-degree murder in the baby's death. Wake County Judge Craig Croom told Stepp that he could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted of the sex offense. He could face the death penalty if he's also convicted of murder.
Stepp, 26, one of eight children, grew up in Washington, N.C., according to his sister Mel Allen, 18, of Raleigh. In addition to raising Cheyenne, Allen said, her brother has custody of his 4-year-old daughter.
Stepp's MySpace page indicates that he served in the Army from 2003 through 2007. Allen said Stepp is now an Army reservist who was deployed to Iraq nearly two years ago. His MySpace page also says he works as a sales associate at a local building supply retailer.
Allen said her brother normally watched the children at night, while his wife worked an overnight shift as a security guard. Allen said Stepp's wife was at work Sunday night when police and paramedics found Cheyenne unconscious about 9 p.m. at the 1223 Silver Sage Drive apartment.
Allen said she wishes people would not jump to conclusions about her brother.
"He loves his kids. That's his only hobby. He always took care of the family," Allen said. "I honestly don't know how the baby got into the toilet paper. That's what my family is trying to figure out."
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