Federal prosecutors will take the helm of a fifth trial for a former Tulsa police officer appealing his 2017 conviction in the slaying of his daughter’s boyfriend after being tried four times in state court.
Shannon James Kepler, a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, was charged with first-degree murder in federal court on Thursday. A Tulsa County jury found him guilty of manslaughter in the 2014 death of 19-year-old Jeremey Lake.
The McGirt ruling, that Congress never disestablished the Muscogee (Creek) Nation reservation, means a change from state to federal jurisdiction for crimes in Indian Country involving a tribal member.
He faces charges of first-degree murder in Indian Country, causing death by using and discharging a firearm during and in relation to crimes of violence, and assault with a dangerous weapon in Indian Country, according to a release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of Oklahoma.
The indictment states Kepler, then 54, “maliciously and with premeditation murdered” Lake by shooting him multiple times with a firearm, also shooting at a minor in the process, the release states.
“Lake’s life was senselessly cut short in 2014 when Shannon Kepler allegedly shot and killed him,” U.S. Attorney Trent Shores said in the release. “A jury convicted Mr. Kepler in state court, but the McGirt decision has impacted his conviction. The need to pursue justice remains. The United States Attorney’s Office will now ask a federal jury to convict Shannon Kepler.
“Our victim specialists are communicating with Jeremey’s family and will be with them every step of the way as this case moves forward in federal court. Our prosecutors have worked hand in hand with our partners at the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office to ensure this young man and his family experience a full measure of justice.”
Kepler’s attorney, Richard O’Carroll, said he believes the U.S. attorney “is making a mistake” and the indictment of his client is “unprecedented.”
“It’s politically unwise and legally unsound,” O’Carroll said. “The government cannot prosecute Mr. Kepler forever. He’s been through four jury trials, a direct appeal, he was acquitted of murder and now he’s being subject to a fifth murder trial. This is a due-process violation and we will move to dismiss.”
Kepler’s defense had sought for his state court conviction to be vacated and the case turned over to the Creek Nation.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ross E. Lenhardt and Sean J. Taylor, from the Western District of Pennsylvania and the Northern District of Texas, respectively, are prosecuting Kepler. Both volunteered to assist in prosecution efforts in the Northern District of Oklahoma due to the onslaught of cases since the McGirt ruling, according to a release.
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