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District Court: Shepard receives death penalty

Vicky O. Misa

A formal sentencing hearing took place Friday morning for the defendant convicted last month in the 2017 murder of Tecumseh Police Officer Justin Terney.

The jury recommended the death penalty as punishment; District Judge John G. Canavan agreed.

At 9 a.m. at the Pottawatomie County courthouse, Canavan wasted no time handing down judgment against Byron James Shepard, 38, of Okemah, regarding three charges.

On the felony count of murder in the first degree, the death sentence was issued to Shepard, who was convicted in November by a Pottawatomie County jury. Shepard also was sentenced to five years and a fine of $500 for the charge of knowingly concealing stolen property; as well as a sentence of 10 years and a $5,000 fine for possession of controlled dangerous substance.

Though Shepard has remained jailed in the Pottawatomie County Public Safety Center, he now will be transferred to the Lexington Assessment and Reception Center until March 26, at which point his sentence is to be carried out. Canavan said Shepard must act within 10 days if he plans to file an appeal.

After the sentencing Tecumseh Police Chief J.R. Kidney said though he expected more to be read from the bench, he was pleased with the outcome.

“That was pretty straight forward,“ he said, of Canavan's decision. “I'm pleased it's done and over; but like the defense said, though, there's still a long road ahead.”

Though it's tough for the family to have to go back each time and relive the experience, he said that time may prove to be productive.

At least waiting out the appeals process may give Oklahoma time to have a new (execution) system in place (for carrying out the death penalty), Kidney said.

The state has been under fire for its method of lethal injection ever since a botched execution in 2014 allegedly caused a death row inmate to have a heart attack during the process. There is currently no protocol in place; the last execution in Oklahoma was in January 2015.

Kidney said Terney's family has expressed to him they feel justice has been served.

“I think that's pretty much how we all feel,” he said.

Background

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.

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.