TULSA, Okla. – A white ex-Oklahoma police officer was sentenced Monday to 15 years in prison for the fatal off-duty shooting of his daughter’s black boyfriend, after four trials spanning nearly a year, including three that resulted in hung juries.
Former Tulsa officer Shannon Kepler was convicted last month of first-degree manslaughter in the 2014 slaying of 19-year-old Jeremey Lake. Tulsa County District Court Judge Sharon Holmes also imposed a $10,000 fine.
Before Kepler was sentenced, Lake’s father, Carl Morse, addressed the court, his head bowed as if struggling to speak.
“The last three years of my life have been a living hell,” he said, describing his son as a “fighter” from his premature birth, and saying Lake had devoted his life to helping the homeless and was going to welding school to make something of himself.
Morse confessed he woke up Monday wanting “to rip (Kepler’s) head off,” but said he knows acting violently toward the ex-officer won’t bring his son back.
Morse then turned to directly address Kepler, who sat nearby in the jury box with his wrists cuffed and wearing grey-striped jail scrubs.
“What you did was wrong … and from now on, you have to pay the consequences of your actions,” Morse said.
Kepler’s lawyers, who said they would appeal, insisted the 24-year police veteran was trying to protect his daughter, Lisa, because she had run away from home and was living in a crime-ridden neighbourhood.
Kepler, who retired from the force after he was charged, testified that Lake was armed and that he shot him in self-defence. Police never found a weapon on Lake or at the scene, and several neighbours testified that they didn’t see him with a gun.
There also was a racial undercurrent to the trials. Kepler killed Lake days before the fatal shooting of an unarmed black 18-year-old by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, fanned a national debate over the treatment of minorities by law enforcement.
A single black juror was seated for each of Kepler’s four trials, and civil rights activists accused Kepler’s lawyers of purposely trying to exclude potential black candidates, a charge they denied.
Kepler’s first three juries deadlocked 11-1, 10-2 and 6-6, forcing the judge to declare mistrials. Prosecutors said after the case finally ended with a conviction last month that it took so long because many citizens are reluctant to send a law enforcement officer to prison.
Kepler’s attorney, Richard O’Carroll, railed against prosecutors for trying the case four times, saying they wanted to make Kepler “a scapegoat for the state” because of the racial issues that underpinned the case.
“It’s token injustice,” O’Carroll said. “There would be no way anybody would be tried four times.” O’Carroll at one point grabbed a sheaf of letters written by Kepler’s supporters to show the ex-officer’s impact on the community.
Assistant District Attorney Kevin Gray said the case was about achieving justice, no matter how many times Kepler was tried. He said “someone we trusted, somebody we armed, trained and sent into our community” had “violated” that trust.
“Even after a life well-lived, a series of bad choices can put him in the same position” as the citizens who served on the jury.
This story has been corrected to show the Kepler’s court-imposed fine is $10,000, not $15,000.