Shawn Thomas Lester was sentenced to 40 years in prison Friday on a second-degree murder charge in the death of Jeanie Patton, one of three people killed in sniper-style slayings that rocked Kanawha County in 2003.
Joyce Patton (center), mother of Jeanie Patton, hugs her daughter, Karen Mance, who asked the judge Friday to impose the maximum sentence on Lester.
Okey Meadows Sr. talks with assistant Kanawha County prosecutors Don Morris and Maryclaire Akers at Friday's hearing. Meadows' son, Okey Meadows Jr., was the third victim in the 2003 killings. Police say he was shot to throw investigators off the trail.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Shawn Thomas Lester, the man originally charged with three sniper-style slayings outside Kanawha County convenience stores in 2003, was sentenced Friday to 40 years in prison for his role in one of the killings.
Kanawha Circuit Judge Duke Bloom handed down the sentence Friday. The 40 years are the maximum Lester could have received after he pleaded guilty in late July to second-degree murder in the death of Jeanie Patton. Prosecutors recommended a 30-year sentence as part of the plea agreement with Lester.
"There isn't nothing I can say that can make this better," Lester said before he was sentenced Friday morning. "I hope that, after today, everyone can get a little closure on this case."
Last year, a grand jury indicted Lester on three counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Patton, Gary Carrier Jr., and Okey Meadows Jr., who were killed by a bullet from a Marlin .22-Magnum caliber rifle.
Prosecutors dropped the charges connected to Carrier and Meadows when Lester agreed to plead guilty to second-degree murder in Patton's death.
Despite the plea, investigators and prosecutors have maintained publicly that Lester killed all three victims. They have said Patton and Carrier were killed in retaliation for the theft of a drug-laden engine block that Lester was hiding in his Rutledge Road garage, which was a front for a multimillion-dollar drug enterprise controlled by members of the Mexican mafia.
Authorities say Patton's husband, Marty Walker, conspired with Carrier to steal the engine block, which contained hundreds of thousands of dollars in street value of rare, pink methamphetamine. (Walker and Patton were not officially married, but friends and family referred to them as husband and wife.)
Police say Lester shot and killed Meadows at random, to throw off the investigation. He was shot on the night of Aug. 14, 2003, outside a Go-Mart in Cedar Grove. Patton was killed outside a Speedway in Campbells Creek earlier that night. Carrier was shot outside a Go-Mart on Bigley Avenue in Charleston four days before.
During Friday's hearing, family members of the three victims pleaded with the judge to give Lester the maximum sentence.
"I can't tell you how much I miss her, and I can't tell you how badly it hurts to know she's not coming back," said Karen Mance, Patton's sister. "Shawn is a monster who has no remorse."
Gary Carrier's brother, Greg, stood at the podium in the courtroom for only a few seconds and choked out a muted request for the maximum sentence.
"The only thing I ask is that you give him the max," he said. "That's all."
Bloom commended the prosecutor's office and Lester's lawyer, Kanawha County Chief Public Defender George Castelle, for their efforts in the case, which both parties said was a massive investigation that yielded hundreds of thousands of files and a witness list that numbered in the hundreds.
Many of those files, according to Kanawha County Assistant Prosecutor Don Morris, were a product of the initial 2003 investigation, during which federal authorities had suspected a random shooter. Other sources close to the case have told the Gazette-Mail that investigators initially balked at evidence that suggested the slayings were connected.
Morris said during Friday's sentencing that at least five key witnesses have died since the sniper slayings. The remains of one man were found under a porch in Kentucky, Morris said.
Bloom lamented the recent stream of violence in West Virginia, including the shooting of two State Police troopers earlier this week, and said he hopes his sentence in Lester's case will have a deterring effect.
"You can't pick up a newspaper and not find a death," Bloom said. "I think it's endemic to our society."
Kanawha County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Plants said after Friday's hearing that he believes his office presented the best possible case based on the evidence, and that his only regret is that Lester's conviction did not put him away forever.
"I'm not happy that he's not serving a life sentence," Plants said. "I'm very happy that Judge Bloom gave him the maximum sentence allowed by law."
Reach Zac Taylor at Zachary.Taylor@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5189.