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Slapping suspect gets speedy trial

Roger Stephens

Roger Stephens

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Alleged Wal-Mart slapper Roger Stephens, whose charges drew the ire of parents around the world, could have his day in a Gwinnett County court next week.

Four and a half months since Stephens reportedly smacked a stranger's crying toddler in the frozen foods section of a Stone Mountain Wal-Mart, the 61-year-old is scheduled for a jury trial in Gwinnett Superior Court.

Stephen's rapid prosecution is a result of his attorney filing a speedy trial demand, requiring the case to be tried by the end of February, said Robby King, assistant district attorney.

Barring a plea deal, jury selection will begin Tuesday, and the trial should wrap up the next day, King said.

"We are still in discussions about resolving the case short of trial," King said in an e-mail Thursday.

Stephens, who's been incarcerated since Aug. 31, is charged with first-degree child cruelty. He pleaded not guilty to the felony charge in an arraignment last month.

A judge denied Stephens bond in September, and some portions of his case file were later sealed from public viewing.

Police arrested the Stone Mountain man on charges he slapped a 2-year-old several times in the face as she stood beside her mother in a Wal-Mart on Rockbridge Road.

The case gained infamy as regional -- and then international -- media caught wind of the unusual allegations.

Stephens had never met the victim or her mother, but warned, "If you don't shut that baby up, I'll shut her up for you," authorities said.

The child's cries persisted, and Stephens confronted the pair again, slapped the girl and said: "See, I told you I would shut her up," according to a police report. He was cornered by another shopper and arrested.

Though the child's injuries weren't serious, the allegations were reported at news outlets from New York to New Zealand, prompting a firestorm of angry reader feedback.

Stephens' attorney, Melvin Nash, has pushed for a speedy trail since November. Nash did not return a request for comment Thursday.

In an earlier interview with the Daily Post, the child's mother said she'd forgiven Stephens.