Ex-officer’s fourth murder trial begins
District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler told a jury that Shannon Kepler had “no right” to seek out his estranged daughter’s new boyfriend and kill the man outside his family’s home in 2014, but the former Tulsa police officer’s attorney said he was only trying to protect his daughter from a “violent person.”
Opening statements were made Thursday morning in the fourth first-degree murder trial that Kepler has faced in just less than a year over the shooting death of 19-year-old Jeremey Lake on Aug. 5, 2014. Trials in November, February and July ended with District Judge Sharon Holmes — who is handling this month’s proceedings — declaring a mistrial due to hung juries.
Kunzweiler on Thursday also called three witnesses to the stand — Dr. Mary Goolsby, Sgt. Marcus Harper and Sgt. Mark Ohnesorge — who testified about topics such as the cause and manner of Lake’s death and the collection of evidence found at the crime scene in the 200 block of North Maybelle Avenue, where Lake lived.
Lake met Kepler’s daughter, Lisa Kepler, at a homeless shelter near his aunt’s home about a week before he was killed and began a relationship with her. He later had her move into the residence with him and other family members. She did not have permanent housing at the time because her family took her to the shelter amid issues at home.
Kunzweiler, in his opening statement, painted Shannon Kepler, 57, as a frustrated father who “dumped” his then18-year-old daughter on the street without bothering to check on her whereabouts until posts referencing Lake, who frequented the shelter to give people water and help out, appeared on her Facebook profile.
However, lead defense attorney Richard O’Carroll started off his remarks by telling the jury Kepler was simply “attempting to rescue his daughter from a sexual predator” and shot Lake in self-defense.
Prosecutors objected to the “sexual predator” comment, which halted the trial for at least 20 minutes as Holmes conferred both in and out of the courtroom with attorneys for both sides. When the trial resumed, O’Carroll amended his statement to call Lake a “violent person” and said Lake is not the nice, kindhearted person Kunzweiler described.
O’Carroll has alluded in the past to Lake having perpetrated a sex offense when he was a minor, which has drawn outrage from Lake’s family and prosecutors who said it amounted to wrongful character assassination. No records have been presented in trial that show Lake was an adjudicated delinquent for such a crime.
Kunzweiler contended Kepler, a 24-year veteran of the Tulsa Police Department, violated agency policies when he used law enforcement resources to obtain information about Lake, who was not under criminal investigation at that time.
The district attorney told jurors that once Kepler learned where Lake — and by extension his daughter — lived, he went home that day, changed into dark clothing, selected an old service revolver that would not deposit shell casings and drove to Lake’s home at night in a black Suburban. Michael Hamilton, Lake’s brother, has testified previously that he heard Lake tell an occupant of that vehicle something along the lines of, “Hi, I’m Jeremey” just before shots were fired.
Hamilton, who was 13 at the time, told police the shooter had a mustache, was wearing a stocking cap and used a silver gun with a black handle. Kepler had a mustache at the time he turned himself in to police after the homicide, and his attorney later gave officers a previous Tulsa police service revolver that matched Hamilton’s description.
Hamilton was on the porch with Josh Mills, another witness, at the time he first saw the altercation.
Mills, who has been described as transient, is expected to testify in the case for the first time, as court records show the Tulsa County sheriff’s office served him with a subpoena from prosecutors. Hamilton and Lisa Kepler are set to take the stand for the fourth time.
Lisa Kepler, according to Kunzweiler, told a 911 dispatcher after the shooting that her father shot her boyfriend and left. But O’Carroll said his client drove away to protect himself because he believed he ran out of bullets in the revolver and, based on his opinion he was in a high-crime area, did not want to be around people under the bridge near the residence as they began to gather at the scene.
Shannon Kepler has testified in each of his previous trials that he saw Lake carrying a gun. O’Carroll said Thursday that Lake tried to reach for the firearm and put himself between Kepler and his daughter before Kepler shot him in selfdefense. Despite this, no gun was found at the crime scene.
“Shannon Kepler had no right to shoot Jeremey Lake,” Kunzweiler said.
O’Carroll countered that “the crux of the matter” is whether Lake pulled a gun and said neither Kunzweiler nor Assistant District Attorney Kevin Gray, who has cross-examined Kepler in the previous trials, will ask where Lake’s gun went.
Gray addressed the issue in Kepler’s February trial, and Kepler at that time told Gray the state had a photo of the gun when it appeared in a Tulsa police interview room trash can one day later. Holmes has made multiple pretrial decisions not to allow any testimony about that gun in the trial because she said no evidence, fingerprints or otherwise, ties it to Kepler’s case.
However, Kepler’s defense has implied a witness to the shooting took it from Lake before authorities arrived and disposed of it in the trash can when they were interviewed at the detective division.
Gray and Kunzweiler have repeatedly emphasized that Kepler — who is facing life imprisonment if convicted — is the only person out of every witness involved who made any claim about Lake having a gun. But O’Carroll, during crossexamination of Goolsby, noted the Medical Examiner’s Office did not test Lake’s hands for gunshot residue.
Goolsby said the agency decided not to do so because they received no information to suggest Lake had fired a gun the night he died.
Testimony will resume Friday morning.