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Community Activist Draws Confession From Man Suspected of Ex's Gruesome 2007 Murder
Quanell X and Texas prosecutors worked together to solve the murder of 19-year-old Tynesha Stewart, a missing Black woman "of great significance."
The case of a missing Black 19-year-old might have never been solved if not for the diligence of a famed civil rights activist and his work with Texas prosecutors.
Loved ones remembered Tynesha Stewart as a “driven” and studious young woman who excelled academically before enrolling at Texas A&M University. Friends Kendria Brown and Kennisha Marshall said Tynesha had earned a $40,000 scholarship to the school in her junior year, graduating in the top 3% of her high school class.
“She had a bright future,” Tynesha’s sister, Gayla Taylor, told Prosecuting Evil with Kelly Siegler, airing Saturdays at 8/7c on Oxygen. “I just looked forward to seeing it.”
Like many teens, Tynesha enjoyed being part of a small singing group amongst her friends, inspired by the super-successful Destiny’s Child, which also originated in Houston. So, it didn’t sit well with Tynesha’s friends when she failed to respond to any texts beginning Thursday, March 15, 2007, especially since the young women planned to hang out that weekend.
Tynesha Stewart Goes Missing
Relatives, including Tynesha’s mother and sister, called law enforcement, though police were dismissive about Tynesha’s absence, figuring she was enjoying spring break. They suggested to loved ones that they call back after the weekend, according to Taylor.
“That just didn’t make sense; she’s an over-communicator,” said Brown. “She would not go off on her own without letting somebody know where she went.”
“She’s not a troubled teen,” Marshall echoed. “We felt like there needed to be some kind of sense of urgency.”
Monday came around, and there was still no sign of Tynesha, nor did she arrive at her scheduled classes.
Without the full support of law enforcement behind them, Tynesha’s loved ones gathered at the Abiding Word Lutheran Church in Houston, handing out flyers and trying to raise awareness of the student’s disappearance.
“Thankfully, the community came out,” said Brown. “Now it’s on the police.”
Police Initiate a Missing Persons Case
Deputy “JD,” working missing persons for the Harris County Sheriff’s Office (H.C.S.O.), responded to the church vigil to glean information about Tynesha. Several people approached JD, claiming the missing girl was last known to be with her ex-boyfriend, Timothy Shepherd, at Shepherd’s nearby apartment.
Shepherd failed to answer the door for Deputy JD, but JD contacted a building manager, who stated a fire had been reported at Shepherd’s apartment two days earlier, JD told Prosecuting Evil.
Another neighbor also noted hearing gunshots from the woods adjacent to the complex, prompting JD and others to search through the trees and put discussion of the fire “on the back burner until I can figure out what’s in the woods,” JD continued.
Responding deputies could smell “something dead” in the area. However, the odor originated from a dead animal.
“It’s a relief that it’s not her, so now I have to keep searching,” Deputy JD remembered.
Gayla Taylor, Tynesha’s sister, told Prosecuting Evil that Tynesha and Shepherd met while working together at a local pizzeria and began dating, despite an eight-year age gap. However, before the March 2007 disappearance, Tynesha decided to separate and focus on her studies, just before she began casually talking with a fellow student named Mark.
“She was still in love with Tim but knew she wanted better, and Mark was kind of giving her that better she wanted,” Marshall told Prosecuting Evil.
Investigators speak with Timothy Shepherd
H.C.S.O. Deputy JD spoke with officials with the Ponderosa Fire Department to inquire about the fire, learning neighbors called authorities when Shepherd’s barbeque grill became uncontrollable on the second-floor apartment patio. Shepherd refused to open his door to firefighters until H.C.S.O. deputies arrived and forced him to allow them entry.
A quick sweep of the residence revealed “a lot of meat that he was barbequing” and ice in the bathtub, JD told Prosecuting Evil. But the firefighters soon left after extinguishing the flames.
“It didn’t leave me with a final answer that it was just a fire,” JD explained. “It left me with more questions than I had when I got there.”
Tynesha’s relatives at the church were able to get Timothy Shepherd on the phone, allowing JD and Shepherd to speak. Shepherd agreed to talk with detectives, including Sgt. Sidney Miller for the H.C.S.O.’s Homicide Division.
Shepherd admitted picking Tynesha up at around 4:00 or 5:00 a.m. and heading to his apartment. But while en route, Tynesha allegedly got a phone call from Mark.
Shepherd said he confronted his ex about the call, resulting in Tynesha walking away on foot, never to be seen again.
Meanwhile, Shepherd gave detectives permission to search his apartment.
“When I first opened the door, there was this smell of fresh paint,” Sgt. Miller told Prosecuting Evil. “I noticed that the carpeting looked like bleach stains. I’d been doing this long enough to know that that’s an indication that someone is probably trying to hide something.”
Miller added it was “really strange” to find the area around the bathtub seemingly mopped, as well as bottles of ammonia and bleach found at the scene. Neighbors also described the hours surrounding Tynesha’s disappearance, when they heard “pounding” and the “garbage disposal constantly running” from Shepherd’s apartment.
Still, without physical evidence, there wasn’t enough for an arrest.
Loved ones call on Quanell X for help
Tynesha’s sister and cousin contacted community activist Quanell X, well-known for his work within the Black community and justice reform (some of his most high-profile cases included the 2019 death of 4-year-old Maleah Davis and the bizarre disappearance [and reappearance] of Rudy Farias). Not only was Quanell X contacted by Tynesha’s relatives, but he was also requested by Shepherd’s camp “to help protect Timothy Shepherd from cops who may be overzealous, maybe racist, and maybe intimidating this brother to give them something that he does not have,” he told Prosecuting Evil.
Kelly Siegler admitted Quanell X “wasn’t a fan of law enforcement.”
“Quanell was walking two paths,” said Siegler. “On one hand, he wanted to make sure Timothy Shepherd was getting all of his rights, and on the other hand, he appreciated this was a wonderful Black female that had a family that needed his help, too.”
Quanell visited Shepherd at his apartment while sister Gayla Taylor waited outside. Inside the suspect’s home, Quanell observed a large amount of luminol in the bathroom, which forensic investigators had left.
There, at Shepherd’s home, the ex-boyfriend confessed to Quanell X that he killed Tynesha Stewart.
“We let evil in, and that’s what happens,” an emotional Taylor told Prosecuting Evil. “She deserved more.”
The Continued Search for Tynesha Stewart
Timothy Shepherd led Quanell X to a dumpster behind an apartment complex some three to four miles from the suspect’s home. However, by then, the dumpster’s contents had been collected and transported to a landfill in the southern part of the county.
Quanell X then became a witness in the case in what Sgt. Miller called “a conflict of interest.”
And Shepherd was arrested for Tynesha’s murder.
In a police interview published by Prosecuting Evil, Shepherd said Tynesha “wasn’t being upfront” about receiving a call from her new college boyfriend, Mark. But then he alleged that he “snapped,” manually strangling Tynesha to death in self-defense.
“I had my knife on the end table,” Shepherd told detectives. “She picked it up. She swung it at me.”
Meanwhile, law enforcement said it would “cost too much” to search for Tynesha’s body in the landfill, according to Taylor. Instead, they went back to Shepherd’s apartment.
“One of the investigators sees what looks like charred bone on the ground of the apartment below Shepherd’s,” according to Sgt. Miller. “Also, we see what looks like burnt hair, and then we checked the garbage disposal.”
Charred items in the sink included bones and teeth that matched the victim’s D.N.A. Investigators then believed she was dismembered and burned over several days on the barbecue, which was supported by neighbors’ accounts.
Siegler recalled to Prosecuting Evil when she delivered the news to Tynesha’s mother, explaining that a landfill search was no longer necessary.
“To tell a mom that her baby was dead?” Siegler cried to producers. “I walked out by myself and got in the car and drove away crying, just thinking, how do they survive this?”
Timothy Shepherd on Trial for Murder
Chief Prosecutor Marie Primm led the case, but it was an uphill battle when up against Shepherd’s defense attorney, Chip Lewis. Famous for defending once-convicted killer Robert Durst for the homicide of Morris Black in Galveston, Lewis already had success in proving that dismemberment did not equate to murder.
“I do not need to like these criminals,” Lewis told Prosecuting Evil. “But I will do the best job anybody can if my financial requirements are met.”
The preliminary trial began in September 2008, and Lewis filed a motion to have Shepherd’s taped confession thrown out, which “could have led to the suppression of more evidence,” including the search of Shepherd’s home, Lewis contended.
If Lewis had succeeded, then anything found at the residence (i.e., Tynesha’s remains) might not have been admissible in court, thus making it “quite difficult” to obtain a conviction, he said.
“I fought, and the law was on our side,” Primm told Prosecuting Evil. “The judge denied the motion to suppress.”
During the guilt phase of the murder trial, which began on Sept. 29, 2008, Primm painted the defendant as a “cold, callous person” with a history of abusing and stalking Tynesha in the past, as alleged by Tynesha’s roommates.
“[The roommate] said Tynesha was having a very difficult time with Tim,” Primm said. “That they were supposed to have been broken up, but that Tim would not leave her alone.”
Given the victim’s “remarkable” character, Lewis said it was “tricky” to convince a jury that Shepherd acted in self-defense, and so it wasn’t proffered as an arguable defense. Primm also called the self-defense theory presented in Shepherd’s confession “a bunch of B.S.”
Friends and firefighters took the stand, but little was as anticipated as Quanell X’s testimony, according to Siegler and Primm.
“I gave my word that I would fight for justice for Tynesha Stewart,” Quanell X told Prosecuting Evil.
Eventually, the jury found Shepherd guilty of murder and later sentenced him to 99 years behind bars and slapped him with a maximum fine of $10,000.
“We who come from economically disadvantaged communities dream of a Tynesha Stewart because she could have been a light, and a symbol to say to young African American girls, ‘In spite of, you still rise,’” said Quanell X. “We lost someone of great significance.”
Primm said she had never before imagined a time when she and Quanell X would be on the same side of justice but that the case of Tynesha opened her eyes, heart, and mind and made her a better prosecutor.
Quanell X agreed, adding, “It gave me hope that the relationship with my community, the Black community, and law enforcement could change for the common good of our community and our city.”
Watch all-new episodes of Prosecuting Evil with Kelly Siegler, airing Saturdays at 8/7c on Oxygen.