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A Pennsylvania man serving a mandatory life sentence for his role in a deadly pharmacy shooting had hoped to walk free Friday morning after having his sentence commuted, but an unresolved 1992 retail theft charge hindered him from leaving prison, according to his attorney.
David Sheppard was convicted of second-degree murder, two counts of robbery, and other charges for his role in the 1992 shooting death of pharmacist Thomas Brannan.
A pharmacy employee named Maureen Quinn testified at trial that Sheppard and Arthur Hawthorne paid for medication before a gun was drawn to her head, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Quinn said Hawthorne then shot Brannan while she was held at gunpoint. Prosecutors said Brannan was “shot in the back.”
In Oxygen’s upcoming documentary “Kim Kardashian West: The Justice Project,” Sheppard, who didn’t pull the trigger in the attack, claims not to have known his co-defendants were planning on robbing the store.
Sheppard was among several inmates serving life sentences without the chance for parole who were recommended for commutation this year. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed off on his commutation earlier this week, according to his attorney, assistant public defender Max Orenstein.
But the outstanding warrant, related to Sheppard’s alleged theft in 1992 of approximately five pairs of jeans from a now-defunct retail store in Delaware County, is keeping the 54-year-old behind bars, according to Orenstein.
Delaware County Deputy District Attorney Daniel McDevitt told the Inquirer that Sheppard missed his court appearance in January 1992 and it’s not relevant Sheppard has been in state custody since then.
“It was his responsibility to come to court and let us know where he is,” McDevitt told the Inquirer.
Oxygen.com could not reach McDevitt by phone to discuss the case.
Orenstein previously filed a motion arguing that delaying Sheppard’s prosecution from 1992 until now violates his right to a speedy trial. In response to Sheppard being held on the retail theft charge, Orenstein filed an emergency petition arguing that the warrant should be lifted and bail set.
“For the Delaware County District Attorney’s office to effectively to take the position that because they have the power to keep him in custody that they should is troubling to say the least,” Sheppard’s defense attorney told Oxygen.com.
Orentein says Sheppard has gone through a “remarkable transformation” and notes he’s received the endorsement of the board of pardons to be paroled in his other case.
George Trudel, a former inmate who faced a life sentence himself and is now advocating for Sheppard’s release, told Oxygen.com the fact that Sheppard is being held on a decades-old retail theft charge is “really what’s wrong in a nutshell with the criminal justice system.”
“It’s a blatant abuse of power and it boils down to someone’s politics and their personal ideology and beliefs,” Trudel told Oxygen.com.
Trudel was convicted of second-degree murder for hiding the weapon that his friend used to kill another man, according to the Inquirer. Trudel’s life sentence was commuted and he was released earlier this year. While in prison, Trudel received a bachelor’s degree from Villanova University and mentored others, according to Liz Geyer, who advocated for his release and is now his girlfriend.
Geyer and Trudel are now both advocating for Sheppard’s release. Geyer told Oxygen.com Sheppard has kept a clean record while in prison and helped with a hospice for sick inmates.
“He’s a person that should not die in prison,” Geyer said. “He’s also [a] second-degree felony accomplice, like George’s sentence was, and these men will do so much good in society."
Geyer referred to Sheppard being held on the retail theft charge as “a power trip.”
After his release, Trudel was hired by Lt. Governor John Fetterman’s office. Kardashian West sat down with Fetterman, as well as Trudel and Geyer, to discuss Sheppard’s case this past summer as part of her upcoming documentary.
In a phone interview with Oxygen.com, Lt. Gov. Fetterman said he agrees with a view expressed by Governor Wolf saying David Sheppard earned his freedom. Fetterman added that invoking the decades-old shoplifting case is a "gross misuse" of power.
Orenstein, Sheppard’s attorney, told Oxygen.com a hearing is scheduled for Monday in regards to the retail theft charge. Sheppard, who was being housed at a state prison, may be transferred to a Delaware County jail.
Kardashian West has advocated for others including death row inmate Rodney Reed and Momolu Stewart, who was released earlier this year. Both Stewart’s and Sheppard’s cases will be featured in “Kim Kardashian West: The Justice Project.”
This article was updated with a comment from Lt. Governor John Fetterman.
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