A Pottawatomie County jury took 55 minutes Monday to convict Byron James Shepard of Okemah in the 2017 shooting death of Tecumseh Police Officer Justin Terney. Now prosecutors will begin arguments for a death penalty sentence.
Jurors found Shepard, 38, guilty of first-degree murder in the officer's death. Today, the jury will return to the Pottawatomie County courtroom of District Judge John G. Canavan to hear arguments as part of the sentencing phase of the trial.
As part of the trial, prosecutors argued Shepard shot Terney that night to avoid going to jail, while Shepard's public defenders argued that the shooting was unintentional.
Officer Terney, 22, died March 27, 2017 from gunshot wounds he suffered the night before in a shootout with Shepard, a passenger in a vehicle stopped by Terney that night. Officer Terney, at 22 years old, had been on the job as a Tecumseh police officer for just 192 days.
Terney’s dash cam video, which was part of the evidence presented in this trial, captured the traffic stop before Shepard allegedly ran, then recorded audio of the events and gunshots in the nearby treeline. Officer Terney was shot and returned fire, hitting Shepard. Terney died the following day while Shepard recovered from his wounds.
Because former Pottawatomie County District Attorney Richard Smothermon recused the office from this case, District 21 Cleveland County District Attorney Greg Mashburn and Prosecutors Pattye High and Travis White represented the state for this trial.
For the sentencing phase, prosecutors are now tasked with proving aggravating circumstances for the death penalty. Those circumstances are that Terney was a peace officer, that Shepard shot and killed Terney to avoid arrest or prosecution, that Shepard is a continuing threat to society and that Shepard has a previous violent felony conviction.
As part of the trial, the jury also found Shepard guilty of knowingly concealing stolen property relating to the stolen firearm used in the homicide, along with a charge of possession of controlled dangerous substance, methamphetamine. For those two counts, the jury has recommended Shepard should serve a total of 15 years in prison.
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