TULSA, Okla. (AP) — A white former Oklahoma police officer on trial for the fourth time in the 2014 killing of his daughter’s black boyfriend told jurors Wednesday he had no choice but to shoot the young man.
Former Tulsa officer Shannon Kepler, 57, was the last witness called in the case. He doesn’t deny that he shot Jeremey Lake, but he said he did so because he believed Lake was armed.
Kepler said he saw Lake reaching into his waistband, so he shot him. No weapon was found on or near Lake’s body.
“He’s bringing it, I’m bringing it,” Kepler told the courtroom. “It was either him or me. I’m not going to stand there and get shot.”
Jurors started deliberations Wednesday evening after closing arguments. Prosecutors told jurors that Kepler set out to “hunt” down Lake and picked the time and location of the August 2014 confrontation and suggested the ex-officer was targeting Lake because he didn’t want his daughter, Lisa Kepler, seeing the 19-year-old.
“Who are you really looking for?” Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler asked Kepler during closing, referencing the defendant’s prior statements that he was searching for his daughter. “You’re not looking for Lisa, you’re looking for Jeremey.”
Tulsa County Assistant District Attorney Kevin Gray referred to Kepler’s claim that he thought Lake was armed as “the phantom gun” defense.
“There is no Santa Claus, there was no gun and Shannon Kepler is guilty of murder,” Gray told jurors.
Kepler’s defense attorney, Richard O’Carroll, repeatedly accused prosecutors of pursuing a “political” case against his client and also said Kepler had been “unequivocal” during his previous three trials that he saw Lake armed.
“One question they will never ask Mr. Kepler is what happened to (Lake’s) gun?” O’Carroll said.
Jurors can find Kepler guilty of first-degree murder, which carries a life in prison sentence with or without the possibility of parole, or guilty of first-degree manslaughter, which sets out a sentence of at least 4 years in prison.
The shooting happened while Lake and Lisa Kepler walked in what the ex-cop has described as a crime-ridden neighborhood. Lisa Kepler had been in and out of a homeless shelter after her father prohibited her from bringing men into his house.
Prosecutors rested their case Tuesday after jurors heard a 911 call in which Lisa Kepler screamed to dispatchers that her father had shot Lake.
Three previous juries deadlocked 11-1, 10-2 and 6-6, forcing the judge to declare mistrials.
Officers across the U.S. involved in fatal shootings of black residents have recently faced similar trials. In the past year — including in Tulsa — juries were unwilling to vote for a conviction or prosecutors were unwilling to charge officers in cases from Baltimore to St. Louis.
In May, a jury acquitted a white Tulsa officer in the killing of an unarmed black man who had his hands up, which roiled the city’s black community. The officer has since left the Tulsa force.
In all four of Kepler’s trials, each jury had one black member.