Oprah’s Former Fashion Designer Sentenced 39 Years For Murder

Posted By Urban News Hour | March 7, 2013

An award-winning fashion designer for Oprah Winfrey, Lena Horne and Will Smith has been sentenced to 39 years in prison for the murder of his boyfriend in their Lakeview apartment last year.

Herbert Van Stephens, 53, was convicted of first-degree murder in January for the fatal stabbing of John E. Atkinson, 24, in the 600 block of West Stratford Place on March 5, 2012. He was sentenced Wednesday by Judge Vincent Gaughan.

Prosecutors said Van Stephens and Atkinson, his boyfriend, became involved in a verbal argument that quickly escalated. When Van Stephens picked up a knife and stabbed Atkinson repeatedly.

A Witnesses overheard the brawl and called police. Paramedics found Atkinson lying on the ground, bloody, and Van Stephens on his cell phone calling a relative, court records show.

Prosecutors said. A bloody knife with a six-inch blade was found at the scene.

Atkinson was stabbed multiple times in the chest, which pierced his heart and lungs, and stabbed an additional times to the abdomen, court records show. He also suffered multiple defensive wounds to both hands, both forearms and was stabbed in the leg, face, neck and back of both arms.

Atkinson was taken to Advocate Illinois Masonic Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

An autopsy found he had been stabbed more than 50 times, including 30 times in the chest — piercing Atkinson’s heart and lungs —  10 times in the abdomen and wounds to his back, legs and face, prosecutors said.

Van Stephens was also injured in the attack. His public defender, Ruth McBeth, argued during the trial that he was acting in self-defense.

Acquaintances of the ill-fated couple whispered about prior abuse, steroid use and infidelity, and even patrons at the gym Van Stevens belonged to claimed he bullied anyone who dared change his preferred radio station.

In a 2002 Chicago Tribune interview, Van Stephens was noted for having clothed Winfrey, Horne and Smith. At the time, he was one of six local designers who won a competition to have their items displayed and sold at the former Marshall Fields.

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