On August 5, 2014, Tulsa police officer Shannon Kepler drove to his adopted daughter’s boyfriend Jeremey Lake’s house and shot him twice before driving away. Nearly three years later, the quest for justice for 19-year-old Jeremey Lake is still ongoing. On July 8, 2017, for nearly the third time in a year, a jury deadlocked on Kepler’s guilt, requiring a mistrial to be declared by Judge Sharon Holmes.
In response, Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler expressed shock and dismay that another mistrial was declared, this time in only three hours. Richard O’Carroll, Kepler’s defense attorney, was not available and did not comment after the mistrial was declared.
The original incident happened when Kepler found out that his daughter, Lisa Kepler, was dating Jeremey Lake. According to testimony by Lisa, her adoptive parents had kicked her out of their house for sneaking out at night. The pair dropped Lisa off at a nearby homeless shelter. It was there that she met Lake, who would visit the shelter to help people. Lisa said that Lake had offered to let her stay with him because of the dangers of a young girl who had just turned 18 living in a shelter.
According to Lisa, Jeremey told her, “once you’re 18 at the homeless shelter, you’re shark bait. Everybody wants to sink their teeth into you, you know what I mean?”
Lisa’s father found out on Facebook that Lisa was now dating Jeremey and found their address by using Tulsa police department resources. On the night of August 5, he drove to Lake’s house in an SUV, taking a revolver as protection. Kepler said that he took the revolver because he thought Lake’s home was in a high crime area.
What Happened to Jeremey Lake on August 5
Further testimony from Lisa indicated that she and Lake had gone to a nearby underpass to assist other homeless people there. They were giving them food and water, which was something that Jeremey did often. When the pair returned home, they saw her father’s SUV parked there. Lisa said that her father rolled down the window to ask her what she was doing there. Lisa told Lake that she was going into the house. When she turned her back, she heard several gunshots go off and turned to see Jeremey lying on the ground as her father drove away.
According to Kepler, he shot Jeremey in self-defense because Lake had a semi-automatic weapon. Police were unable to find a weapon on Lake or at the scene. According to family members, Jeremey was reaching out his hand to shake Kepler’s hand when Kepler shot him.
Testimony by couples who live near Lake’s home said that they did not see a weapon at the scene, directly disputing what Kepler has offered as his defense. Two neighbors, Phillip and Loretta Milligan approached the scene, and Loretta attempted to render aid to Lake. She said that she wrote down her actions when a responding officer asked her to fill out a witness statement.
In contrast, Joshua Goldstein, the officer who asked her to fill out the statement, testified that Loretta made it clear that she did not go outside after she heard the gunshots.
Kepler’s Defense For Driving Away
Kepler said that he drove away because he was out of bullets for the revolver that he brought with him and he was afraid of the crowd that was gathering after he shot Lake. Furthermore, he said that he was anxious about giving statements regarding the shooting because it occurred when he was off-duty. According to Kepler, his wife Gina reminded him that officers involved in off-duty shootings do not get legal assistance from the police union or a waiting period. When asked if Kepler knew the Miranda warnings by heart, Kepler said he did not, despite being a police officer for 25 years.
Those Miranda warnings guarantee a defendant the right to have an attorney present when they are questioned.
Kepler also offered his suspicion that Lake was under the influence of drugs such as synthetic marijuana at the time, but a toxicology screen of Lake’s body did not reveal any. Kepler also testified that he did not see Lake walking oddly or slurring his speech, nor was he close enough to see Lake’s pupils.
In response to there not being a weapon found on the scene, O’Carroll offered the theory that one of the witnesses took the gun from Lake’s body and disposed of it in a Tulsa police interview room trash can. A gun was found in there a day later. Testing of the weapon did not provide any DNA evidence that would link it to Lake’s killing.
Shannon Kepler is being tried for first-degree murder, which carries a mandatory life sentence in prison. Judge Holmes did instruct the jury that they could instead return a verdict of guilty on the lesser charge of manslaughter, which only carries a minimum sentence of four years. The jury returned to the judge, deadlocked at 6-6. It was unclear if they were split acquittal vs. guilt or on the lesser charge vs. the greater charge. The previous two mistrials saw the jurors deadlocked at 11-1 and 10-2, with the majority voting guilty.
In response to the mistrial, Pam Wilkins, Jeremey Lake’s aunt, expressed frustration at the latest mistrial, but was adamant that she and Lake’s family would not give up their pursuit of justice.
[Featured Image by Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office/AP Images]