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Single Juror Spares Cop Killer's Life

Single Juror Spares Cop Killer's Life

handout Todd L. Shepard, in a mug shot provided by authorities.

St. Louis Dispatch via YellowBrix

March 06, 2011

CLAYTON – Todd Shepard went looking to murder a police officer on Halloween night 2008, found Sgt. Michael King sitting in his squad car off the Delmar Loop — and, to this day, doesn’t regret shooting him in the head.

King’s family believes that Missouri has a death penalty for people like that. But a St. Louis County Circuit Court jury on Saturday morning disagreed, recommending a sentence of life in prison without parole.

Prosecuting Attorney Robert P. McCulloch, who prosecuted the case, said one juror had held out on a death sentence.

“It only takes one person to control the entire outcome,” he said.

Susan King, the slain sergeant’s wife, said her family “didn’t feel that it was an appropriate punishment for the crime.”

“We felt it was cut and dry,” she said. “So that’s why we were so surprised by the decision.”

The jury on Thursday convicted Shepard, 43, of Berkeley, of first-degree murder after he admitted on the witness stand that he killed King, 50, a lifelong resident of University City and 25-year member of its Police Department.

Deliberations in the penalty phase came to a deadlock on Friday night. But after Circuit Judge David Lee Vincent III told them to hash it out, they were ready to return a verdict in the morning.

Screen_shot_2011-03-06_at_10

Sgt. Michael King

McCulloch said he learned that one juror disagreed that aggravating factors in the murder case outweighed mitigating factors. A death sentence requires a jury to be unanimous on that issue, he said.

The holdout juror was not identified. Members of the jury were excused through the back of the courtroom and left the courthouse unseen by reporters. An alternate juror, contacted at home, declined to speak with a reporter.

Several members of King’s family shook their heads as the foreman read the verdict Saturday — life in prison without parole.

Shepard’s sister, Sara Henderson — who had testified that her brother was “the best brother” — raised her arms and sobbed, “Thank you, Lord.”

Shepard taunted McCulloch with vulgar names in the courtroom throughout the trial. As bailiffs led him out of the courtroom, he lobbed one more at the veteran prosecutor: “punk-ass fag.” McCulloch retorted, “Get out.”

Vincent set the official sentencing for 9 a.m. April 13.

McCulloch spent about 20 minutes after the verdict speaking in private with several King family members.

The case had special meaning for him, he said later, because his own father, Paul, was slain on duty.

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