Cullman murder suspect apprehended in Georgia

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Murder suspect Nathan Winston Stephens was captured by U.S. Marshals in Cobb County, Georgia Tuesday, Oct. 6. (Cullman Police Department)

CULLMAN, Ala. – Murder suspect Nathan Winston Stephens, 43, was apprehended Tuesday, Oct. 6 in Cobb County, Georgia. Stephens evaded authorities for 24 days after the Sept. 12 murder of Herndon Self, Jr., 56, of Hanceville. The crime occurred in Cullman, just two days after Stephens was released from prison under Alabama’s mandatory release law.

The Cullman Police Department, in a statement, said Stephens was located and taken into custody by the U.S. Marshals Service Fugitive Task Force and is being held at the Cobb County Detention Center.

Said the statement, “We are currently working with them on extradition arrangements. The Cullman Police Department expresses our thanks to the vigilance of the public and regional law enforcement who all aided in this capture.”

“I would like to thank Cobb County, the U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force and the law enforcement agencies in Cullman and Marshall counties for all their hard work,” said Cullman Police Chief Kenny Culpepper.

Stephens’ mother was arrested Sept 17, charged with first-degree hindering prosecution. Audrey Cofield Smith, 61, of Welti was taken into custody by officers with the Cullman Police Department, Cullman County Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Marshals Service.

Stephens 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).

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.

The murder of Herdon Self, Jr.

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.”

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W.C. Mann

craig@cullmantribune.com