Man present at sniper slaying recalls scene 10 years later
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Rodney Shaffer II said he was sitting in the back of his dad's green Ford Bronco on an August night 10 years ago when he was woken abruptly by the blast of a gunshot.
"I looked back to see what we were flying away from," Shaffer -- or "Little Rod," as he's also known -- told the Gazette last week. "I seen the red Camaro sitting at the gas pump with the door open."
"What's going on? What happened?" Shaffer asked his friend, Shawn Lester, and his dad, Rodney "Big Rod" Shaffer, who was driving. "The gun was sitting in the middle between them."
The gun was used to shoot Jeanie Patton on the night of Aug. 14, 2003, at the Speedway gas station in Campbells Creek -- one of three sniper-style killings in Kanawha County over five days.
Lester pleaded guilty last year to second-degree murder in Patton's slaying, and is serving 40 years in prison. The elder Shaffer died in 2008.
Rodney Shaffer II pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges, but said he's never been sentenced on them. He said he's got 26 months of probation left on a federal gun charge.
The younger Shaffer said that earlier on the night Patton was killed, he was at CAMC Women and Children's Hospital. His father's mistress was in labor, and his father told him to drop off a suitcase.
After he got a flat tire, his father and Lester picked him up.
"We can't take him with us," the younger Shaffer said Lester told his dad.
"'It's my boy, what do you want me to do? Leave him here?' Dad told him."
Ten years later, he wishes he had never taken that ride. He said he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Some have labeled him a snitch for revealing to police what he remembers, which he said isn't very much, about the night Patton was killed.
"I'm still dealing with it every day. I tell people, what would you do when you didn't have nothing to do with it?" Rodney Shaffer said about telling police what he knew.
Patton, 31, of Campbells Creek, was shot while pumping gas. Police believe it was because the man commonly known as her husband, Marty Walker, had a role in stealing an engine block full of rare pink-tinted methamphetamine from Lester's Sissonville garage.
She was shot four days after Gary Carrier Jr., 44, of South Charleston, was shot while using a pay phone outside a Go-Mart store on Bigley Avenue in Charleston. He was also connected to the meth theft.
A little more than an hour after Patton's death, Okey Meadows Jr., 26, of Campbells Creek, was shot in the neck outside a Cedar Grove Go-Mart. Police believe he may have been shot at random to throw investigators off the track.
The three slayings triggered a massive hunt for the shooter and put area residents on edge. It wasn't until 2011 when Lester was named in connection to the slayings.
Little Rod Shaffer had met Lester through mutual friends around Sissonville in the early 1990s -- or maybe before then, he isn't sure -- and introduced Lester to his father.
Two years after the shootings, Lester moved in with the Shaffer family. Before then, though, the younger Shaffer found it odd how close his dad and Lester had become.
"I walked in on him and dad talking a few times and I didn't know what they were talking about. And, I heard some things I didn't want to hear, and heard some things I couldn't believe, and some that I didn't really pay a whole lot of attention to," Shaffer said.
"Shawn was always talking, bragging about stuff and I didn't believe half of what he said."
And, Shaffer said, "Big Rod" wasn't the type to talk about the past.
"One thing about my old man, he didn't volunteer any information about anything he done. Hell, he kept the secret about being with another woman while he was married to mom until the baby was born," Shaffer said.
The night Patton was killed, Shaffer said, he fell asleep after Lester insisted on visiting three or four places to try to find him a new tire.
In Campbells Creek, Shaffer said, when Lester got out of the car, he finally decided to take a nap.
He woke up, he said, when he heard the shot at the Speedway. His dad and Lester drove him immediately from Campbells Creek back to Charleston, he said, where they dropped him off downtown -- so he wouldn't have been with them when Meadows was shot an hour after Patton.
Shaffer also said he hadn't heard about the shooting of Carrier four days before, and didn't pay attention to the coverage local and national media gave the three slayings.
"None of it really hit me until I was in jail and they were questioning me about the case and I had to go over it detail by detail," he said. "I didn't get questioned about it until 2011 when they started tearing our house down."
That year, based on statements Shaffer provided while in jail on an unrelated charge, police ripped apart his family's property off Hughart Drive in Sissonville.
According to previous Gazette reports, Charleston Police Lt. Steve Cooper asked Shaffer if he had ever heard about anybody being buried on the property. Shaffer told police that his dad used to say, "I'd bury a [expletive] body if I had the chance."
Police confiscated an arsenal of dozens of rifles, shotguns and handguns from "Big Rod" Shaffer's gun safe. None of them was the gun from the sniper killings. Police believe that weapon was destroyed in a car crusher.
Shaffer said he and his father often hunted together and added that they had taken Lester with them before. He said he talked about that with police, and mentioned it to reaffirm he never "snitched" on Lester.
"I never once said Shawn did anything. I told the cops myself, I didn't think Shawn could shoot a roof from 10 feet away. I took him squirrel hunting before and anybody with a 12-gauge can shoot a squirrel unless they don't know how to shoot a gun and he couldn't," Shaffer said.
"My dad, he could shoot a rifle."
Shaffer said that once Lester was arrested, he told Shaffer to keep quiet.
"[Lester] sent me a message while we were in jail telling me if anything happens for me not to say nothing, 'cause he was going to take the rap since he was the only one alive that was involved," Shaffer recalled. "He was going to make sure they didn't charge me just because I knew about it."
But several months later, Shaffer said, Lester told police that Shaffer shot Patton. While in jail, Shaffer was placed in lockdown after at least one inmate attacked him and referred to him as a "snitch."
Shaffer volunteered to take a lie-detector test after Lester tried to implicate him in the shooting of Patton. Police have said Shaffer passed the test.
Today, Shaffer works at a junkyard in Sissonville six days a week. He's trying to put his life back together, but "I'm always bumping into somebody who is saying something about it."
"It probably won't ever be forgotten, but I try to see past it every day. It ain't like the first thing that comes to my mind every morning," Shaffer said. "I still have a lot of questions. I wish dad was alive to tell me the answers because I know he knows more."
Many days, though, Rodney Shaffer II said he blames his dad for leaving him and his mother to deal with a situation he says they had nothing to do with.
"My theory is, and I don't know if it's true or not, but I knew Shawn knew dad was dying and I think he was using dad to his advantage to help him out. I don't think dad cared because he knew he was dying and he probably would've done anything Shawn asked to get money," Shaffer said.
Shaffer said his father had pancreatic cancer and had been told by doctors he wouldn't live past 1998.
"He sure didn't leave any money for us behind. He left us in a big hole -- a mess."
Reach Kate White at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1723.