Steve Treece

Steve Treece

A jury has found Steve Earnest Treece, 65, guilty of murder for shooting and killing his wife, Donna Treece, in 2018 at their home in Cedar Hill Lakes, a village in Jefferson County south of Cedar Hill.

She was 60 when she died.

Div. 5 Circuit Court Judge Victor Melenbrink presided over the one-day trial, which started at about 9 a.m. on Tuesday (March 2) and ended about 2:15 p.m.

The jury of 10 women and two men spent a little more than an hour deliberating before finding Treece guilty of first-degree murder, a class A felony punishable by death or life in prison with no eligibility for probation or parole, and armed criminal action, an unclassified felony that carries a minimum sentence of three years in prison.

Assistant prosecuting attorney Travis Partney, who handled the case for the county Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, said the office will not pursue the death penalty in the case.

“The previous administration (under then Prosecuting Attorney Forrest Wegge) opted not to,” Partney said. “It was never in question before me and (current) Prosecuting Attorney Trish Stefanski. Had it been, I’m not sure the factors would have qualified for a capital case (and the death penalty), by statute.”

Sentencing is scheduled for May 19, and Treece will be held at Jefferson County Jail until then.

The matter for the jury to decide was less about whether Treece shot his wife – he admitted it – than whether his actions warranted a conviction of first-degree murder or second-degree murder.

The penalty for second-degree murder, also a class A felony, is punishable by 10 to 30 years or life in prison.

The defense did not call any witnesses to counter the testimony from witnesses for the prosecution, and Treece waived his right to testify when Melenbrink asked him if he wanted to.

The shooting occurred about 5:50 a.m. July 11, 2018, in the 8400 block of Eastview Drive, and neighbors who heard the gunshots contacted authorities.

When Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrived at the scene, they found Steve Treece on the deck of his house, holding a pistol and sitting on his wife’s dead body, according to uncontested testimony presented during the trial.

Authorities who testified at the trial said Treece refused to relinquish the pistol and at times pointed it at deputies. After a five-hour standoff, he was arrested.

Sheriff’s Office personnel testified that Treece admitted to shooting and killing Donna Treece, saying he suspected her of cheating on him and of trying to poison him. No evidence was provided to support his claims.

Partney called six witnesses to the stand. The most compelling was the first, neighbor Margaret “Peggy” Stewart, who said she had known the Treeces for years, adding that she and her husband had socialized with them on occasion.

Stewart, at times sobbing, said she was performing her morning prayers inside her home across the street from the Treeces when she heard gunfire and stepped outside.

“I saw Steve holding Donna, but she was limp,” Stewart said. “The only way I could describe it was it looked like he had a life-size rag doll in his hands.”

Stewart said it looked like Steve Treece pointed the gun at her while she stood outside, so she went back inside her house.

“I thought he was going to shoot me,” Stewart said.

She said Treece “lit a cigarette and sat down on top of (his wife).”

In cross examination, defense attorney Guy Wold asked Stewart if she knew of previous fights between Steve and Donna Treece. Stewart said she did not.

Dr. Kamal Sabharwal of the St. Louis County Medical Examiner’s Office testified that Donna Treece had two gunshot wounds to her head and one to her genital area.

The first of the shots to her head killed her, and the shot to her genital area occurred after she had died, Sabharwal said.

Another of the prosecution’s witnesses, Detective Joseph Womack, testified about Steve Treece’s actions the morning of the fatal shooting.

Womack testified that Treece said he waited for his wife to finish getting ready for work and walk outside the house to the deck before approaching her.

“He said he did not want to make a mess in the house,” Womack said.

Womack said Treece told him he believed his wife had affairs with men and had been trying to poison him.

One plot Treece asserted was that his wife attempted to poison him through his cigarettes, with the help of a convenience store clerk, Womack testified.

Womack also said Steve admitted to shooting his wife three times and said he had thought about killing her previously.

“He said he’d been contemplating it for two months,” Womack said.

The defense rested without presenting evidence or witnesses.

In closing arguments, Wold conceded that Treece shot and killed his wife.

“It’s pretty obvious that’s what happened,” Wold said.

However, he said Treece had acted rashly, so he asked the jury to consider opting for second-degree murder instead of first-degree murder.

“There wasn’t any period for cool reflection,” Wold said.

In Partney’s closing argument, he said the difference between first-degree murder and second-degree murder is “deliberation” and that Treece admittedly thought about killing his wife for an extended period of time before taking her life. Also, Partney argued that on the day of the shooting, Treece waited for his wife to exit the house before shooting her.

“It is as simple as it was brutal,” Partney said. “You are asked to decide whether it was murder in the first degree or murder in the second degree. The difference is deliberation.

“He thought about it for months. He waited for her to leave so as to not make a mess in the house. If that isn’t deliberation, I don’t know what is.”

Partney said he felt the jury’s verdict was justified.

“I’d like to thank the Sheriff’s Office for its work and the jury for its service,” he added.

Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Trish Stefanski said the trial was the first in-person jury trial conducted at the Jefferson County Courthouse since the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown last year.

“We’re pleased to be open,” she said.

Steps were taken to try to prevent the spread of the virus during the trial.

“There were restrictions due to COVID – spacing, masks, taking (extra) breaks,” Partney said. “We can’t just send them back to the jury room because of space.”