A white former Oklahoma police officer was convicted of first-degree manslaughter Wednesday in the off-duty fatal shooting of his daughter’s black boyfriend after jurors in three previous trials could not decide if the ex-cop was guilty of murder.
Shannon Kepler, 57, a former Tulsa police officer, was found guilty of killing Jeremy Lake, 19, in Aug. 2014. Lake was dating Kepler’s then 18-year-old daughter, Lisa, at the time.
The jury, which deliberated for about six hours, recommended a sentence of 15 years in prison.
Lake’s death occurred four days before a white police officer fatally shot unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. The killing sparked months of protests and became a catalyst for the Black Lives Matter movement, which decried police violence against minorities and called for greater transparency from law enforcement officials.
The issue of race had become an undercurrent in Kepler’s trial after a single black juror was seated for each of the four trials, and civil rights activists accused Kepler’s lawyers of purposely trying to exclude potential black candidates. They denied the accusation.
Kepler’s attorneys said the former officer was trying to protect his daughter because she ran away from home and was living in a crime-ridden area. Defense attorney Richard O’Carroll said Lisa had been in and out of a homeless shelter after her father forbade her to bring men into the home.
Lisa Kepler met Lake when he was a volunteer at the homeless shelter where she was residing, the Daily Mail reported. She said her parents booted her out of the house and left her at the shelter after she was caught sneaking out of their home.
Kepler told investigators Lake was armed and that he was acting in self-defense, but police did not find a weapon on Lake or at the scene.
Kepler, a 24-year-police veteran, retired from the force after he was charged with the shooting.
Prosecutors said Kepler watched his daughter and Lake from his car before approaching them on the street. Lake’s aunt disputed Kepler’s self-defense account and has said her nephew was reaching out to shake Kepler’s hand to introduce himself when Kepler fired.
Kepler told the court he called his wife, Gina Kepler, who was also an officer in Tulsa, after he fled the scene.
Kepler turned himself in to police the next day with his wife. Gina Kepler was arrested for being “an accessory to the crime” but was never formally charged.
Kepler will be formally sentenced on Nov. 20.
THe Associated Press contributed to this report.