Lester to enter new federal plea
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Court records indicate that Shawn Thomas Lester has brokered a new federal plea agreement with prosecutors in a second attempt to pass the scrutiny of a judge, who balked at the first deal because it didn't provide for enough punishment.
Last month, Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg McVey filed a motion asking U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver to schedule a guilty plea hearing to resolve Lester's federal troubles.
Copenhaver rejected Lester's first plea agreement in September, which asked the judge to dissolve two federal weapons possession charges and run a 20-year drug distribution sentence side-by-side with his 40-year second-degree state murder sentence in the 2003 shooting death of Jeanie Patton.
Patton, along with Gary Carrier Jr. and Okey Meadows, were killed by the bullet of a scoped rifle while they were standing outside of separate Kanawha County convenience stores that year.
Lester pleaded guilty in July to second-degree murder charges linked to the death of Patton. A county judge later sentenced him to 40 years in prison.
"Twenty years concurrent with the state sentence. That's not much punishment at all," Copenhaver said in September.
Copenhaver's block of the federal plea raised concerns from Lester's attorney, Deidre Purdy, that his plea agreement to the state charges in Patton's death could also be void. The murder plea, Purdy said, was intertwined with his plea on the federal side and undoing one could undo the other.
"There's no question the two were worked out together," Purdy said. "I have no idea what will happen in state court."
So far, the apparent worst case scenario -- which would likely result in the resurfacing of Lester's three indicted first-degree murder charges and resumed preparations for a lengthy and costly Kanawha County trial -- has not come to fruition.
But even in light of Lester's apparent wishes to again enter a guilty plea in federal court, state prosecutors are still not sure whether he will be able to challenge his murder charges.
"Nothing changes," Kanawha County assistant prosecutor Maryclaire Akers said. "We have no idea how or if it will impact the state's case."
Last year, a Kanawha County grand jury indicted Lester in the murders of Patton, Meadows and Carrier.
Investigators say that the killings, which were initially believed to be random, were part of an elaborate plot Lester had concocted to gain revenge for the theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of rare methamphetamine from his auto garage on Rutledge Road.
The garage was reportedly a front for a multimillion-dollar drug operation led by members of the Mexican mafia.
Carrier and Patton's husband, Marty Walker, reportedly stole an engine block that housed the meth. Lester decided to target Carrier and Patton and reportedly shot Meadows at random to throw off the initial FBI-led investigation.
During the lead up to Lester's trial, a federal grand jury brought charges against him that were unrelated to the sniper killings, which McVey has said were used as leverage in the state's case.
Security cameras installed in the Sissonville home of Rodney "Big Rod" Shaffer twice captured footage of Lester carrying a sawed off shotgun in 2007. Lester, a previously convicted felon, would have been barred from carrying a firearm.
Witness statements attached to Lester's Kanawha County court file also indicate that Lester served as a sort of body guard to Shaffer, who along with his son Rodney Shaffer II, played parts in both the Rutledge Road drug operation and the sniper killings. "Big Rod" Shaffer died in 2008. His exact role in the killings remains unclear.
Sometime after he was indicted on the gun charges, a grand jury later indicted Lester on one count of conspiracy to distribute oxycodone and cocaine.
Reach Zac Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5189.