Sniper-case witness gets 18 months in weapons plea deal
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Shawn Thomas Lester might not have admitted his role in the 2003 sniper-style shootings if one of the men who reportedly witnessed one of the killings had not agreed to cooperate with investigators, federal prosecutors said Thursday.
Rodney Preston "Little Rod" Shaffer II was the "only living witness" to the death of Jeanie Patton, who was shot and killed by a bullet from a Marlin .22 Magnum rifle outside a Campbells Creek Speedway on Aug. 18, 2003, assistant U.S. Attorney Blaire Malkin said.
A federal grand jury indicted Shaffer last year on charges of illegally possessing dozens of weapons on his acres-large property off Hughart Drive in Sissonville.
In December, Shaffer pleaded guilty to being a drug user in possession of a firearm, admitted to possessing the weapons and that he'd fired some of them while he was under the influence of drugs.
On Thursday, U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver sentenced Shaffer to 18 months in prison.
Shaffer faced a maximum of 54 months in prison on the charge, but prosecutors recommended a vastly reduced sentence based on his cooperation in the sniper investigation. With time served, Shaffer will be required to spend just another two to four months in prison, according to his lawyer, Sean W. Cook.
In late July, Lester pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree murder in the death of Patton, effectively allowing the state to forgo a costly six-week trial that included a very lengthy witness list. Last week, a Kanawha County judge sentenced Lester to 40 years in prison on the charge.
Prosecutors and investigators believe Lester also is responsible for the slayings of Okey Meadows Jr. and Gary Carrier Jr., who were killed outside two convenience stores by a bullet from the same type of weapon that killed Patton. Lester allegedly killed Patton and Carrier in retaliation for the theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of drugs from his car repair garage on Rutledge Road. Meadows was targeted at random to throw off the investigation, authorities say.
Kanawha County Assistant Prosecutor Don Morris said Lester, Shaffer and Shaffer's father, Rodney Preston "Big Rod" Shaffer, were sitting together in a green Ford Bronco at the scene of Patton's slaying. "Little Rod" was passed out in the back seat and coming down from a days-long drug binge, Morris said.
Shaffer heard a gunshot and sat up just in time to see Patton fall to the ground, Morris said.
"Big Rod" Shaffer died in 2008.
Malkin said during Thursday's hearing that the younger Shaffer cooperated with the sniper investigation immediately after he was arrested last year. He participated in at least six interrogations, helped reconstruct the scene of Patton's death, consented to and passed a polygraph test and volunteered information that helped prosecutors levy two unrelated federal charges against Lester.
While incarcerated in a regional jail, at least one inmate attacked Shaffer, breaking his nose and lacerating his face. According to Malkin and Shaffer's attorney, Lester ordered the attack.
"It's obvious, Shawn Lester's reach extends beyond his prison cell," Cook said.
Cook pointed out that by agreeing to testify against Lester in the sniper trial, Shaffer essentially took the heat for the dozens of other witnesses who would have had to testify. Shaffer will spend the rest of his life in fear, Cook said.
Since he was arrested in connection to the sniper murders, a federal grand jury has indicted Lester on weapons possession and drug distribution charges. He has agreed to plead guilty to the weapons charge and a court filing earlier this week indicates that Lester also might plead guilty to the drug distribution charge.
Reach Zac Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5189.