TULSA, Okla. – A third mistrial was declared Friday in the murder case of a white former Oklahoma police officer accused in the off-duty fatal shooting of his daughter's black boyfriend.
For a third time in less than a year, a jury deadlocked in case against former Tulsa police officer Shannon Kepler. Judge Sharon Holmes declared the mistrial after just four hours of jury deliberations, astonishing prosecutors and frustrating the family of Jeremey Lake, the 19-year-old man shot dead in August 2014, not long after Lake started dating Kepler's then-18-year-old daughter, Lisa.
"I've never encountered a dynamic like this in 25 years of practice," said Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler. "In my opinion, there should be some compulsion placed on jurors to reach a verdict."
Holmes had instructed jurors that they could convict Kepler of first-degree murder or the lesser charge of manslaughter. Manslaughter carries a sentence of four years to life in prison, while the sentence on a first-degree murder conviction is life in prison.
The jury deadlocked 6-6, but Kunzweiler said it was unclear if the breakdown was six for conviction and six for acquittal or six for murder and six for the lesser charge of manslaughter.
Kepler, who retired from the force after he was charged, was a 24-year-police veteran who said he was trying to protect his daughter, who had run away from home and was living in a crime-ridden neighborhood. Defense attorney Richard O'Carroll said Lisa had been in and out of a homeless shelter after her father prohibited her from bringing men into his house.
Kepler told investigators he was acting in self-defense because Lake was armed, but police didn't find a weapon on Lake or at the scene. Lake's aunt said her nephew was reaching out to shake Kepler's hand to introduce himself when Kepler fired.
Pam Wilkins, Lake's aunt, said his extended family is deeply frustrated by the third mistrial.
"But I'm not giving up hope," she said. "We're believing in God and justice for Jeremey."
Jurors in Kepler's previous two trials, in November and February, deadlocked 11-1 and 10-2 in favor of guilt and Judge Sharon Holmes was forced to declare mistrials. Although they couldn't agree on the murder charge, jurors in the first trial convicted Kepler of recklessly using his firearm
Lake was killed four days before a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson on Aug. 9, 2014.
Michael Brown's killing touched off months of protests and became a catalyst for the Black Lives Matter movement, which decries police violence against minorities and calls for greater transparency from law enforcement officials, especially in cases that involve officer-involved shootings.