Despite a request for a last-minute postponement, jury selection will begin Monday for Shannon Kepler, a former Tulsa police officer who is facing his fifth trial in connection with the shooting death of his eldest daughter’s boyfriend, Jeremey Lake.
Kepler was charged in federal court after the state Court of Criminal Appeals overturned his state manslaughter conviction and 15-year prison term on jurisdictional grounds.
Lake, 19, was shot to death Aug. 5, 2014, outside his aunt’s home just west of downtown Tulsa.
Kepler, 60, has never denied shooting Lake. However, he claims he shot in self-defense while off-duty after he drove his wife’s sport utility vehicle to Lake’s home while in search of his daughter, Lisa.
Lisa, then 19, had become involved in a romantic relationship with Lake after her family dropped her off days earlier at a homeless shelter as punishment for her behavior.
Shannon Kepler went looking for Lisa on that fateful night when she did not come home after several days.
Kepler’s first three first-degree murder trials in state court — between November 2016 and July 2017 — ended in hung juries. A fourth state trial on first-degree murder ended in October 2017 with the jury convicting the 24-year veteran of the Tulsa Police Department of the lesser charge of first-degree manslaughter after it was allowed as an option for jurors to consider.
However, unlike his first four trials, Kepler’s fifth trial will be held in federal court.
A federal grand jury charged Kepler with first-degree murder and related charges in November in anticipation that a state appellate court would toss his state manslaughter conviction on jurisdictional grounds.
The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, in an opinion issued March 18, overturned Kepler’s Tulsa County District Court first-degree manslaughter conviction and 15-year prison term, citing a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
The appellate court agreed with a lower court’s determination that Kepler’s case met the criteria for overturning based on a July U.S. Supreme Court decision that determined the Muscogee (Creek) Nation reservation was never dissolved by Congress, resulting in the state not having jurisdiction to try Kepler.
Kepler is a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and Lake’s death in the 200 block of North Maybelle Avenue was within the still-active, 1860s-era boundaries of the tribe’s reservation.
A three-count federal indictment filed Nov. 5 charges Kepler with first-degree murder in Indian Country, causing a death by use of a firearm during a crime of violence in Indian Country and assault with a dangerous weapon in Indian Country.
The latter charge is linked to an allegation that Kepler also shot his .357-caliber Magnum revolver in the direction of Lake’s half-brother, who was a juvenile at the time, after shooting Lake.
The sibling was not injured.
In a late development, U.S. District Judge Gregory Frizzell last week turned away a request by Kepler’s attorney that the trial start be postponed for up to 60 days.
Writing in an April 9 motion for a continuance, Kepler’s attorney, Stan Monroe, cited the ongoing trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin and the COVID-19 pandemic as reasons for delaying the trial.
Monroe noted that both Kepler’s and Chauvin’s cases have been “highly publicized.”
“While it is unknown at this time whether the Chauvin trial will be concluded by (the start of Kepler’s trial), the fact that Mr. Kepler, a former Tulsa Police Officer, will be undergoing trial either during or upon the heels of the Chauvin trial, gives rise to the likelihood of prejudice against Mr. Kepler, a former Tulsa police officer.”
The motion also notes that the trial will be held during the COVID-19 pandemic and that a 60-day postponement would permit others to be vaccinated against the virus and allow the trial to begin “without concerns of the impact the virus may have on prospective jurors.”
Frizzell denied the continuance request during a pre-trial hearing.
Monroe, who was not Kepler’s attorney during his state trials, said Thursday that the fifth trial will feature “some differences and some similarities” to his past trials.
Monroe said prosecutors plan for the first time to possibly introduce testimony from a forensic expert on blood pattern evidence.
Monroe also said prosecutors so far have not objected to the defense introducing evidence of a gun found in a trash can at the police station following the shooting of Lake.
Kepler had hoped to introduce the so-called trash can gun as evidence in his state trials to bolster claims that Lake was somehow armed when he encountered Kepler outside his home.
But the judge in Kepler’s state trial banned any mention of the gun found in the trashcan during the trials because no evidence linked it to the shooting.
No gun was found on Lake following his shooting death.
The trial is expected to last at least five days and will feature as many as 37 prosecution witnesses, 16 of which are Tulsa police officers.
The trial will be held in the old federal courthouse at 224 S. Boulder Ave. so that another judge can utilize Frizzell’s regular courtroom at the Page Belcher Federal Building, which is the largest among those at the courthouse.
The baseball played at Lacy Park every Sunday is beautiful.
It’s beautiful because Sandlot Sundays bring together a bunch of men — some old, some young, some fat, some thin, some talented, most not — and gives them the opportunity to fall in love all over again with the sport of their youth.
It’s beautiful because the grass is real, the bats are wooden and the balls are horsehide.
And this is fastpitch baseball. It doesn’t get any better than that.
“I can’t help it if this is where I’m happiest, it really is,” said TreyDon Brown, who scored one of the Tulsa Breeze’s first runs Sunday in their game against the Tulsa Rumblers.
Brown, 46, quickly amended his statement to say he’s actually happiest when he’s with his daughter, and there is no reason to doubt him. But this is a man who drives — often on his motorcycle — 200 miles roundtrip from his home near Calvin in Hughes County to play baseball every Sunday at Lacy Park.
“Something about baseball, man, it’s like no other sport,” Brown said. “I guess you could get addicted to horseshoes, but it don’t give the love back like baseball, does it?”
One could argue that Jake Cornwell has a bit of a baseball addiction. The baseball historian and publisher of Oklahoma Baseball Archive founded the Rumblers with Josh Kampf, a Queens, New York, native and long-suffering Mets fan.
“It was just a bunch of dads who got together,” Cornwell said. “We actually call ourselves ‘The Founding Fathers’ because we are just a bunch of dads who wanted to play baseball, and we are all invested in our families, but we really appreciate the organism that is the sandlot revolution.”
The team’s name pays homage to Tulsa author S.E. Hinton, whose books include The Outsiders and Rumble Fish.
“We are proud Tulsans … that is why our logo is a switchblade, and also why we’re called the Rumblers, it’s kind of an amalgamation of many of her works,” Cornwell said.
The Rumblers were formed in early 2019 out of the Sandlot Sundays Cornwell and Kampf organized in 2018.
When the team’s not playing at Lacy Park at 2134 N. Madison Place in north Tulsa on Sundays, the field reverts to the home of Sandlot Sundays, where everyone and anyone is welcome.
“This is about having fun, competing, getting some exercise, hanging out with your friends,” Kampf said. “But it’s not about trying to be a bad-ass. There are not scouts coming (out).”
But the stories, how they pour out.
Rumblers starting pitcher Bhadri Verduzco hadn’t played baseball since he was in high school in Austin, Texas. Tall and lean, the graphic designer looks like he can throw.
“I just didn’t know how much I was missing it,” said Verduzco, 40. “It was like such a part of my life all the way until I was 18, and then all of a sudden, one day, it’s over, and you never get to do it again.”
Verduzco’s wife, Bethanie Verduzco, said it’s hard to put into words how much playing with the Rumblers has meant to her husband.
“Baseball was always his life growing up. He’s the type of kid that would sleep with his bat and glove … still does,” she said with a laugh. “He lives for this, it has given him so much life and joy.”
Blake Cottey, 37, grew up playing baseball in Alabama and Missouri. But prior to joining the Rumblers, he hadn’t picked up a baseball since he was 17.
“I tried doing the softball thing, and it wasn’t quite what I was looking for personally,” Cottey said. “I just love the hardball and stealing bases … it’s been, honestly, like my church.”
He wears his Sunday best to the games, too. His brother-in-law, former Major League player Orlando Merced, gave him one of his old first baseman’s mitts to use.
“This was his glove when he played on the Cubs,” Cottey said.
The Rumblers are more than a band of brothers out to have some fun. They are an established nonprofit trying to do a little good.
A big part of that effort is working with the Lacy Park neighborhood, city officials and the Tulsa Drillers to not only improve the ballpark but to recapture an appreciation for its rich history.
The diamond was once home to the Negro League semi-pro baseball team, the T-Town Clowns.
“This community has a memory of these local heroes, guys that worked in factories 60 hours a week and then got up on the weekend and barnstormed to Bethany, Okemah or whatever, and played ball here” said Rumblers player Bret Spears. “But for the last 20 years or so, to a greater degree, that we could tell, this place has been fairly neglected.”
Spears himself has gone to great lengths to keep the spirit of baseball alive, particularly in his own family. It would surprise no one who spent Sunday afternoon at Lacy Park watching grown men play a child’s game to hear that Spears has his own wonderful baseball story.
His son, who was born the same day the Red Sox won the World Series in 2013, is named Boston.
“He was born in the ... inning when Shane Victorino slapped a three-run double off the (Green) Monster,” Spears said. “And he is a Yankees fan, for real. He loves the Yankees.”
More information is available about the Breeze and the Rumblers on Facebook.
OKLAHOMA CITY — Mother-and-daughter gardening enthusiasts Carolyn Ann Kreymborg and Michelle Reeder shared a special affinity for azaleas.
When aspiring artist Kaylee Neighbors was given a chance to paint their portraits, she made sure to bring them their favorite flowers.
“I incorporated a lot of floral elements into both of the paintings, made the piece more about their life — like surrounding them with life — instead of focusing on their deaths,” she said.
Kreymborg, 57, and Reeder, 33, were among the 168 people killed in the April 19, 1995, Oklahoma City bombing. They attended an azalea show in Oklahoma City as their last activity together.
“I just wanted to create something that (their family) would love and would really capture these two women as best as I possibly could,” Neighbors said. “This was a really cool project, and the fact that those families will be able to see it, that definitely makes it special.”
Neighbors is part of a group of Broken Arrow High School art students and recent graduates who created portraits of each of the people who died in the bombing for a class project.
Although it was temporarily derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the project has turned into “Remembering Through Art,” one of two new exhibits opening at the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum Monday, the 26th anniversary of the bombing.
“Each kid took a person and researched that person and then painted,” said Kari Watkins, the memorial and museum’s executive director. “They are unbelievable how personal they are. They’re not necessarily portraits of the person — they’re maybe of their hobby or something they loved — but it’s something about them.”
“So, here’s a kid who never met the person — wasn’t even alive when (the bombing) happened — who did the research and learned about them and painted their story. ... And it’s like they’re in the room. Their presence is in the room.”
The 26th Annual Remembrance Ceremony will be at 8:45 a.m. Monday at the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum, with a keynote address by U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and performance by Grammy winner Mandisa.
Due to the pandemic, the ceremony will be a ticketed event open only to bombing survivors, family members and first responders. The anniversary event will be broadcast at Oklahoman.com, MemorialMuseum.com, www.facebook.com/okcmemorial, on the memorial’s YouTube channel and on local television stations.
Following the remembrance ceremony, the memorial grounds will open to the public, and admission to the museum will be free for Cox Community Day.
Along with “Remembering Through Art,” the museum will open another new exhibit Monday: “More Than Two Decades of Building. Together.” It focuses on how the people of Oklahoma City came together to rebuild and remember following the bombing, ultimately creating the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum, where cities around the world now turn to find a blueprint to help with recovering and memorializing after tragedy.
“The museum turned 20 years old a few months ago, and we realized that we tell a lot of stories, but we don’t necessarily tell the story about how the museum and memorial were built by the people of the community and how it’s privately funded. That’s a unique story,” Watkins said.
“There are still daughters who can’t have their dad walk them down the aisle because their dad was killed. The effects are like any tragedy: They live on long after. ... I think these students’ portraits are powerful in such a way, because it’s someone from the outside looking in and then learning from your loved one. That’s a really powerful testament to how 26 years later ... your loved one is still impacting people’s lives.”
Broken Arrow High School art teacher Jennifer Brown said the inspiration for the project came from seeing the series of memorial tributes printed daily in The Oklahoman and the Tulsa World to commemorate last year’s 25th anniversary of the bombing. From November 2019 to April 2020, both papers ran a profile a day on the 168 people who died in the tragedy.
“I started cutting them out, thinking, ‘I’m going to do a collage, or I’m going to do something.’ ... And then I just had this epiphany that, ‘Wow, wouldn’t it be cool if I could get my kids to do something?’” she said.
“We really like to connect what we do in the classroom with real world. There’s a big disconnect between something that happened 25 years ago, when they weren’t even born. They didn’t go through the experience like we did. People talk about it or tell about it, but I wanted them to read about it and to think about what was left behind.
“Then, the second reason was this for domestic terrorism was the largest amount of deaths ... and for them to understand the devastation that something like that causes on the world.”
After connecting with the OKC National Memorial, Brown and fellow Broken Arrow teachers Jennifer Deal and Brett Gray had their art students each chose one of the 168 people to honor on canvas. Starting in January 2020, the pupils were to research the person they selected and portray them in a personal way, from highlighting their military achievements to depicting favorite foods.
“These kids got into it — I’m going to start crying — these kids got into it way above my expectations,” Brown said. “I had some kids that would finish their thing, it was gorgeous, and they were like, ‘Can I have another one?’ Some of these kids just took it to serious heart.
“And we’re talking kids across the spectrum: We’re talking kids with special needs all the way to advanced placement (students), artists that are better than me. All over the gamut, everybody stepped up, and I think it was the reality of learning about what happened.”
The project was progressing smoothly until the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Oklahoma, upending the school year. As her mother’s caregiver, Brown had to retire, but when the 2020-21 school year commenced, Deal and fellow Broken Arrow art teacher Kyle Todaro worked with students to make sure all 168 people who died in the bombing were included.
“A lot of the community rallied around the project when we realized we were going to have to try to find funds to pay for frames. We just made some calls, and everybody was like, ‘Well, we can give this and we can give this,’” Brown said, adding that Ziegler Art & Frame in Tulsa gave them a good deal.
Although the initial plans to show their work were canceled due to the pandemic, the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum opted to host the collected student paintings as an exhibit.
Although “Remembering Through Art” opens to the public Monday and continues through the summer, the OKC National Memorial was to host Sunday evening a private preview for family members of the 168 people killed in the bombing, with some of the students and teachers to attend.
“We loved how the students connected to the story, and the teachers did a remarkable job — and the community and the school did a remarkable job — of making it all a reality. It’s a very powerful exhibit,” Watkins said. “Art is a powerful way for people to share both pain and healing — and I think that’s what we see in these pictures.”
For Neighbors, who graduated from Broken Arrow High School last May, many of the special activities of her senior year were spoiled by the pandemic. She said the portrait project finally getting a happy ending is encouraging, especially since family members of those depicted will get to see the art.
“It gives me hope for more exhibitions being brought back and more chances to get my work out there,” Neighbors said. “This gives me more drive to actually make things and put things out there. But it’s not about me, it’s not about the artists, it’s about the families. I’m happy that they’ll able to see them surrounded by the things that they loved.”
Unlike the snarling teeth painted on his former plane, which struck fear in the hearts of many an enemy, Bill Miller’s smile is warm and friendly.
And this Monday, he’ll have even more reason than usual to display it.
A decorated Air Force colonel who flew with the famed Flying Tigers in World War II, Miller will celebrate a milestone birthday — his 101st.
A party will be held for him Monday in the dining room of Legend at Southern Hills retirement facility, where he lives.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Miller missed out on a party for his 100th birthday last year, said his daughter, Billie Kurth.
“Our family was able to visit with him virtually,” she said. “He thought that was amazing — that technology could do that.”
But having an in-person celebration this year, she said, will help make up for what they couldn’t do then. It will include a visit from the Centenarians of Oklahoma club, who will officially welcome Miller to their group of Oklahomans who are 100-years-old or older.
Miller, originally from Wisconsin, just moved to Tulsa a couple of years ago, his daughter said.
After living in a small house behind hers, he moved into Legend in March after suffering a stroke.
Kurth, a longtime Tulsan, is the oldest of Miller’s children.
Born during WWII, while he was away fighting in China, she was almost a year old, she said, by the time he first saw her.
After the war, Miller went on to a long military career, flying in the Berlin Airlift and serving as an adviser in Vietnam.
In a sense, Kurth and her father are just now getting to know each other, she said.
“I think I will look back on this time as when I got to know him more as a human being rather than someone on a pedestal. Which is who he has always been to me,” Kurth said.
“He was just so busy being what he was.”
As a boy growing up in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, Miller always had an “adventurous” streak, he said.
He became interested in flying and, after previously joining the National Guard, he left college after three years to pursue the dream.
He joined the Army Air Corps in 1940, still more than a year before the U.S. entered WWII, and went on to earn his wings.
Following the Pearl Harbor attack, Miller was sent to help fight the Japanese in China, and assigned to the 23rd Fighter Group, 10th Air Force.
Commanded by Brig. Gen. Claire Chennault, the group carried on the tradition of Chennault’s previous command, the original Flying Tigers.
A volunteer group of American pilots sent to aid China before U.S. entry into the war, that group had been disbanded, and the baton and moniker passed to the 23rd. Like their predecessors, Miller and the new Tigers sported the iconic teeth on the noses of their P-40 Warhawk aircraft.
Starting in August 1942, the 22-year-old Miller would go on to fly 54 combat missions, strafing and dive-bombing enemy targets, and shooting down at least three Japanese planes. He was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross and other honors.
Miller also would experience being shot down. Forced to bail out once, he ended up traveling 10 days on foot through enemy territory to get back to an American base.
Among Miller’s keepsakes is a silk tapestry embroidered with a tiger that was given to him by a grateful Chinese mayor.
After the war ended, Miller was ordered to Germany as part of occupation forces. There, he participated in the Berlin Airlift in 1948 and 1949, an operation undertaken in response to a Soviet blockade of West Berlin. Miller flew in supplies to residents for the full year of the operation.
Later, he served as an Air Force adviser in Vietnam. He retired as a colonel in 1968, concluding a 27-year military career.
Miller met and married his wife Jeanne before he went overseas. They raised four daughters, and were married for 58 years up until her death in 2000.
The pair shared a love for travel and nature photography, and amassed an impressive photo collection.
“He’s got around 22,000 slides. It took us a while to get them all into the computer,” Kurth said. One, taken of scissortail flycatcher during a visit to Oklahoma, won Miller a prize.
Before his recent stroke, Miller had enjoyed good health overall, his daughter said. He’s had diabetes for years, but managed it well, and it kept him focused on healthy living.
Even into his late 90s, he was still walking six miles a day, his daughter said.
Kurth said her dad never talked about his military career or WWII experience before he moved to Tulsa.
“One day he just said to me ‘there are things you need to know,’” she said, adding that it came out of the blue.
He went on to tell her about his career.
“I can’t say we were ever close. He was a career man and never there,” Kurth said.
“But I’m glad we’re getting this chance now.”