In less than two hours Friday afternoon, a Pottawatomie County jury decided to give the death penalty to Byron James Shepard, the convicted murderer in the death of Tecumseh Police Officer Justin Terney.
Shepard, 38, of Okemah, had no reaction as the court clerk read the jury's verdict before a packed courtroom just before 3 p.m.
District Judge John G. Canavan has scheduled formal sentencing for 9 a.m. on Jan. 3, 2020.
The jury spent 55 minutes deliberating Monday before finding Shepard, 38, guilty of first-degree murder in the officer's death. The jury spent the rest of this week hearing testimony as part of the sentencing phase, followed by closing arguments Friday morning.
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.
During the trial, prosecutors argued Shepard, who was a fugitive with a warrant, shot Terney that night to avoid going to jail. Shepard's public defenders, who argued that the shooting and officer's death was unintentional, and asked the jury to spare his life and allow him to spend the rest of his life in prison.
Prosecutors, in presenting witnesses for the sentencing phase of the trial, pointed out Shepard's criminal history, as well as past violence and drug use. Officer Terney's siblings also testified.
Corey Terney fought emotions as he spoke of the loss of his “little brother” and told the jury how excited Justin Terney was the day he interviewed for the Tecumseh police officer's job, saying his brother wanted to be police officer since the age of 3.
“I do know that I cannot forgive the person who took my brother's life … he took my best friend,” he said.
“Justin died a hero,” Tonisha Rapp, Justin Terney's older sister, testified.
Another sister, Nicole Marks, spoke about how focused Justin Terney was on his dream job, saying that he had even acquired a puppy, Onyx, so he could train to become a K-9 officer.
“Byron Shepard ended Justin's life and his dream,” she said.
And just as Terney's family testified seeking justice, Shepard's relatives testified to plead for Shepard's life.
This case was prosecuted by District 21 Cleveland County District Attorney Greg Mashburn and Prosecutors Pattye High and Travis White, who were all appointed to the case when former Pottawatomie County District Attorney Richard Smothermon recused the office from this case. Shepard was defended by public defenders with the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System.
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.
Shepard will remain jailed in the Pottawatomie County Public Safety Center until formal sentencing.