A white former police officer in Tulsa, Oklahoma, has been sentenced to 15 years behind bars for fatally shooting his daughter’s 19-year-old black boyfriend in 2014.
Last month, a jury convicted Shannon Kepler, a 57-year-old ex-cop, of first-degree manslaughter in the shooting death of Jeremey Lake. It was the fourth jury that Kepler had faced in the span of about a year, after three hung juries.
At the jury’s recommendation, Tulsa County District Court Judge Sharon Holmes sentenced Kepler to a 15-year prison term on Monday. She also ordered him to pay a $10,000 fine.
Kepler has maintained that he shot Lake in self-defense in August 2014. The police veteran said he’d driven to Lake’s house out of concern for his then-18-year-old daughter Lisa Kepler, CBS News reported. He said his daughter, who had recently become romantically involved with Lake, had “run away from home” and he’d hoped to convince her to return.
Lisa Kepler told jurors that her parents had kicked her out of the house and dropped her off at a homeless shelter in the days leading up to the shooting. It was there that she’d met Lake, who volunteered at the facility. She said she soon moved in with the teen and his aunt.
On Aug. 5, 2014, Lisa Kepler and Lake returned home to find Shannon Kepler waiting outside in his SUV.
After exchanging a few words with her dad, Lisa Kepler said, she turned to walk into the house when she heard several gunshots. When she turned around, Lake was lying on the ground and her father had returned to his vehicle and driven off, she said.
Kepler said he’d fired in self-defense because he saw Lake pull a semi-automatic gun out of his pocket.
“He’s bringing it, I’m bringing it,” Kepler told the court last month, according to The Associated Press. “It was either him or me. I’m not going to stand there and get shot.”
Police, however, did not find a weapon on Lake or at the scene of the crime. Several witnesses also testified that they had not seen Lake with a gun.
Lake’s aunt said her nephew had moved to shake Kepler’s hand when the police officer, who had been off-duty at the time, pulled the trigger, according to CBS News.
Prosecutors noted that Kepler, who turned himself in more than two hours after the shooting, had neither called 911 nor attempted to give medical attention to Lake.
Kepler said he had considered calling 911 but had “called his wife instead because ‘he realized he was in a pickle,’” per local CBS affiliate KOTV.
The issue of race had been a central focus in Kepler’s four trials. He killed Lake just days before a white police officer fatally shot Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old in Ferguson, Missouri.
Civil rights activists accused Kepler’s defense team of purposefully excluding black jurors from Kepler’s first three trials. The three deadlocked trials, the first dating back to November 2016, had only one African-American juror each.
Prosecutors also contend that a conviction “took so long because many citizens are reluctant to send a law enforcement officer to prison,” the AP reported.
Kepler’s defense team said the odds had been stacked against their client.
“If the government is going to prosecute you four times in a row, the odds of you being convicted go up,” Kepler’s attorney Richard O’Carroll told The Washington Post this week. “They argued racism without a shred of evidence ... [The judge] was biased from the beginning. I know that sounds like sour grapes, but it’s the truth.”