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Jury suggests death: Sentencing hearing is Friday in Tecumseh officer's murder case

Kim Morava
Byron James Shepard

A formal sentencing hearing is scheduled Friday, Jan. 3, for the defendant convicted last month in the 2017 murder of Tecumseh Police Officer Justin Terney, and the jury has recommended the death penalty as punishment.

A Pottawatomie County jury in November convicted Byron James Shepard, 38, in the case. After the second phase of the trial, with the defense asking for jurors to spare his life and send him to prison, the jury returned less than two hours later on Nov. 22 and chose the death penalty.

Shepard, 38, of Okemah, had no reaction as the court clerk read the jury's verdict before a packed courtroom that included Terney's family and several area police officers.

District Judge John G. Canavan scheduled formal sentencing for 9 a.m. this Friday, Jan. 3, 2020, at the Pottawatomie County courthouse.

Shepard has remained jailed in the Pottawatomie County Public Safety Center while awaiting formal sentencing.

Officer Terney, 22, died March 27, 2017 from gunshot wounds he suffered the night before in a shootout with Shepard, who was a passenger in a vehicle stopped by Terney that night.

Tecumseh Police Chief J.R. Kidney said Terney, who wanted to be a police officer since he was 3 years old, became an officer at age 21 and started living his dream.

“Less than one year into it, his dream was taken away, so don't let the memory of Justin Terney die,” Kidney said after the trial. “Remember that he was a young man doing what he loved and fighting for his community the night that he died,.”

The same jury that choose the death penalty for Shepard initially spent 55 minutes deliberating the first-degree murder charge in the case. With jury selection and testimony, followed by the death penalty phase, the trial lasted three weeks.

During the course of the trial, prosecutors argued Shepard, who was a fugitive with a warrant, shot Terney that night to avoid going to jail. Prosecutors pointed out Shepard's criminal history, as well as past violence and drug use. Shepard's public defenders 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.

This case was prosecuted by District 21 Cleveland County District Attorney Greg Mashburn and Prosecutors Pattye High and Travis White, who were 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.

Shepard's girlfriend, Brooklyn Danielle Williams, who was driving the vehicle the night of the traffic stop, stood trial earlier this year and was convicted of second-degree murder in Terney's death. She is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence with the Department of Corrections.

Watch for updates.