Just days before the well-publicized shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri fanned the flames of racial discontent across the country, a less publicized crime occurred. A 24-year veteran of the tulsa criminal defense law firm tulsa ok
police force shot and killed his daughter's black boyfriend in an off-duty dispute. After four trials spanning almost a year, former Tulsa
police officer Shannon Kepler was convicted of first-degree murder.
Although Kepler's lawyer argued that the girl's father was simply trying to protect his daughter, who had run away from home to live in a crime-ridden neighborhood, the racial undercurrent of this case was undeniable. Kepler told investigators that he shot 19-year-old Jeremy Lake in self-defense, yet police did not find a weapon on him and neighbors testified that he did not have a gun.Self-Defense
Like anyone else charged with a criminal offense, Kepler hired a criminal defense attorney to represent him in court. This attorney argued that since the officer fired on Lake in an attempt to protect his daughter from harm, the killing should be considered self-defense. However, the fact that the defense was unable to prove that Lake had a weapon made this defense difficult to prove.
Civil rights activists accused Kepler and his lawyers of attempting to purposefully exclude black jurors after each of the four trials seated only one black juror each. His lawyers denied this claim, and after issuing three mistrials the prosecutors declared that the reason for jurors' hesitation to convict was based on citizens' reluctance to send police officers to prison. The first jury deadlocked 11-1, resulting in a first mistrial, while the second jury deadlocked 10-2 and the third was split directly down the middle.
The End Result
In the end, Kepler was convicted and while the state of Oklahoma only stipulates a mandatory minimum of four years in prison, the jurors recommended a 15-year prison sentence. Kepler was also ordered to pay a $10,000 fine. Ultimately, whether the crime was racially motivated or not, Lake's killer was convicted.
What's the Takeaway?
The ambiguity of this case is what makes it noteworthy. Had the defendant been able to prove that Lake had a weapon, it is arguable that the end result of this case would have been quite different. While Kepler's conviction does stand as a testament to the effectiveness of Oklahoma courts at prosecuting even members of the law enforcement community successfully to obtain justice for victims and their families, it can also be seen as a cautionary tale regarding the necessity of finding a suitable defense attorney.