Race again an is­sue in ex-Tulsa cop’s fourth mur­der trial

Las Vegas Review-Journal (Sunday) - - NATION - By Justin Juoza­pavi­cius

TULSA, Okla. — Three hung ju­ries in the case of a white for­mer Ok­la­homa po­lice of­fi­cer charged with fa­tally shoot­ing his daugh­ter’s black boyfriend had one thing in com­mon be­sides un­will­ing­ness to con­vict: Each had only one African-Amer­i­can ju­ror.

Race has been an un­der­cur­rent in ex-Tulsa of­fi­cer Shannon Ke­pler’s first-de­gree mur­der case, which is headed for a fourth trial. Crim­i­nal law ex­perts and U.S. Supreme Court cases point to the im­por­tance of racial iden­tity and polic­ing when it comes to jury se­lec­tion, which is set to start Mon­day.

Ke­pler, a 24-year vet­eran of the force, was off duty in Au­gust 2014 when he fa­tally shot Jere­mey Lake, 19, who had just started dat­ing Ke­pler’s daugh­ter. Ke­pler doesn’t deny pulling the trig­ger but says he did so only be­cause he thought Lake was armed. No weapon was found on or near Lake’s body.

Of­fi­cers across the U.S. in­volved in fa­tal shoot­ings of black res­i­dents have re­cently faced sim­i­lar tri­als. In the past year alone — in­clud­ing in Tulsa — ju­ries were un­will­ing to vote for a con­vic­tion or pros­e­cu­tors were un­will­ing to charge of­fi­cers in cases from Bal­ti­more to St. Louis. In May, a jury ac­quit­ted now-for­mer Tulsa of­fi­cer Betty Jo Shelby in the killing of an un­armed black man.

“I don’t see how race can­not play a role,” said Kris McDaniel-Mic­cio, a pro­fes­sor at Sturm Col­lege of Law at the Univer­sity of Den­ver and a for­mer Bronx-based prose­cu­tor. “I don’t think there’s any way to get around it be­cause of what has hap­pened in this com­mu­nity.”

The racial makeup of the ju­ries in Ke­pler’s pre­vi­ous tri­als prompted crit­i­cism from at least one civil rights group.

Tulsa ac­tivist Marq Lewis with We the Peo­ple Ok­la­homa said Ke­pler’s de­fense at­tor­neys have been boot­ing po­ten­tial jurors based on skin color.

Richard O’Car­roll, Ke­pler’s at­tor­ney, has de­nied race played a role in Lake’s killing. O’Car­roll did not re­turn mes­sages seek­ing com­ment.

Tulsa County District At­tor­ney Steve Kun­zweiler de­clined to com­ment specif­i­cally on the racial makeup of the past ju­ries, but ac­knowl­edged “frus­tra­tion” with the re­sults of the tri­als.

“I know I had cit­i­zens who put in a lot of ef­fort and worked very hard and I know from their per­spec­tive they are frus­trated as well,” Kun­zweiler said.

Sue Ogrocki The As­so­ci­ated Press

Shannon Ke­pler ar­rives June 30 with his le­gal team for his trial in Tulsa, Okla. Ke­pler faces an­other trial in the 2014 fa­tal shoot­ing of his daugh­ter’s black boyfriend.

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