Suspect released from prison 2 days before allegedly murdering man in Cullman

Nathan Winston Stephens was released under the 2015 mandatory release law

Nathan Winston Stephens (Alabama Department of Corrections)

Updated 9-15-20 at 10:49 a.m.

Alabama’s mandatory release (Act 2015-185) was signed into law by former Gov. Robert Bentley.

CULLMAN, Ala. – Nathan Winston Stephens, 43, who is being sought by authorities in Cullman in connection with the Saturday night murder of Herndon Self, Jr., 56, of Hanceville, was denied parole by the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles (ABPP) on Aug. 11, 2020 but was subsequently released Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020, two days prior to the murder, under a 2015 law requiring mandatory release of certain convicted felons, according to the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC).

ABPP Director of Communications Terry Abbott confirmed to The Tribune that the ABPP denied Stephens’ parole on Aug. 11 and has taken no further action. 

The Tribune’s call to ADOC’s headquarters in Montgomery was directed to “Inmate Information.” Asked why Stephens was released, the ADOC representative who took the call said, “He was granted early release, mandatory.” Asked if a reason was given in the record, the staffer simply replied, “I mean, based off of his information, he qualified and was eligible for early release.”

According to the state, mandatory release of eligible inmates is based on the length of sentence. The law provides for certain ranges of time for release preceding an individual’s end of sentence:

  1. For sentences of five years or less, mandatory release is no less than three months and no more than five months prior;
  2. For sentences of more than five years but less than 10 years, mandatory release is no less than six months and no more than nine months prior;
  3. For sentences of 10 years or more, mandatory release is no less than 12 months and no more than 24 months prior.

The 2015 act is supposed to make available early release to prisoners near the ends of their sentences. Stephens has a lengthy record, and ADOC did not specify which case was under consideration in its decision to release him.

Lengthy criminal record

Stephens came up for parole in August 2020 after serving one year, 11 months of a 10-year prison sentence handed down in 2018 for third-degree burglary in Marshall County. This would be the most likely case under consideration, though that was not confirmed.

Stephens is a convicted sex offender, charged in 2002 with second-degree rape, altering and possessing a pistol with an altered identification and possession of a controlled substance in Cullman County. Sentenced to three years, he served only a year and a half before being released early from prison.

Stephens was convicted in 2005 of first-degree receiving stolen property and possession of a controlled substance in Marshall County and possession of a controlled substance in Cullman County and sentenced to 15 years, but was again released early from prison, after serving barely a third of his sentence.

He was sent back to prison again in 2011 for 15 years, with a second and apparently concurrent sentence in 2012, for violating the sex offender registration law in Cullman and Marshall counties and for second-degree theft of property and possession of chemicals with the intent to manufacture drugs in Marshall County, but was again released from prison early after serving less than a third of his sentence.

In 2016, Stephens was arrested in Marshall County for failure to obtain proper identification in relation to his sex offender conviction. 

In 2017, he was arrested in Marshall County for third-degree domestic violence. While in the Marshall County Jail in 2017, he participated with six other inmates in a dining hall riot that started with a complaint about the supper being served, and ended after the inmates damaged fire control sprinklers and other items in the dining hall. The seven were charged with inciting a riot and damaging state property.

He was arrested in Sept. 2018 by the Marshall County Sheriff’s Department for a probation violation, failure to appear for a court date and second-degree assault.

Stephens’ court record includes arrests for illegal possession of alcohol, attempting to elude police, burglary, theft, harassment, domestic violence (separate charges of strangulation and harassment), drug possession, manufacturing a controlled substance, assault, criminal mischief and multiple violations of the terms of his sex offender registration.

What happened Saturday night?

According to Delmer Bailey, a relative of the victim, Stephens was riding in a vehicle on Alabama Highway 157 with Self and three others- who had picked up Stephens upon his release from St. Clair Correctional Facility Thursday- when the incident occurred. Stephens became agitated and got into a physical altercation with Self. The car stopped near the Alabama Highway 157/U.S. Highway 31 intersection, where the occupants found Self was wounded and unresponsive and attempted first aid. Stephens left the car and fled on foot, while the vehicle went to Cullman Regional where Self was pronounced dead shortly after arrival, according to Cullman County Coroner Jeremy L. Kilpatrick.

Bailey said of Self, whom he called “Junior,” “He was a wild child, but nobody deserves this. Junior was a fun-loving guy, but sometimes the company you keep will be the death of you.”

Police are still on the lookout for Stephens, whose records indicate home addresses in Arab, Albertville, Guntersville and rural Cullman County near the Simcoe community. He is 5’6” tall, weighs approximately 180 pounds, has sleeve tattoos on both arms and is bald. He was last seen near the Alabama Highway 157/U.S. Highway 31 intersection wearing a white T-shirt and blue jeans.

Cullman Police Chief Kenny Culpepper on Monday said his department had obtained a murder warrant for Stephens.

If you have any information about the crime or Stephens’ whereabouts, call the Cullman Police Department at 256-734-1434.

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W.C. Mann