GILMER--In a surprise development, the suspect in a September 26 fatal shooting outside Gilmer High School withdrew his request for a bond reduction Thursday after the prosecution upgraded the charge against him from murder to capital murder -- an offense punishable by death.
During a hearing which only lasted about one minute before a packed 115th District Courtroom, Jonathan Ray Shepherd's attorney, Arlington lawyer Gerald J. Smith, Sr., announced his client would withdraw the motion to reduce his $1 million bond "at this time."
Upshur County District Attorney Billy Byrd then told 115th District Judge Lauren Parish that unspecified new charges had been brought against Shepherd, 32, of Gilmer, in the shooting of 29-year-old Cheyenne Green, also of Gilmer.
The woman was slain in the high school parking lot at night while a junior high football game was in progress nearby at Buckeye Stadium, and court records indicate that her 18-month-old son, of whom Shepherd is the father, was present.
At the hearing, Byrd said he had advised Smith of the new charge, which Smith confirmed before Judge Parish adjourned the brief proceeding before more than 60 spectators, including several relatives of Ms. Green and the defendant's father-in-law and mother-in-law.
Afterward, Byrd told reporters the charge had been upgraded "based on how the investigation unfolded," and that Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace Lyle Potter had arraigned Shepherd that morning, setting the bond on the new charge at $1 million. Unlike murder, capital murder in Texas is punishable only by either lethal injection or life imprisonment.
Byrd later told The Tyler Morning Telegraph the charge was upgraded because the state alleges Shepherd was "in the course of kidnapping or attempting to kidnap" Ms. Green when he killed her. (Under Texas law, a defendant can be charged with capital murder if he kills someone during the course of committing another felony.)
Byrd also said it was "way too early" to say whether he will seek the death penalty.
The district attorney also said the victim's family did not want Shepherd out on bail, and that he thought an "outpouring of support" for those relatives was "a factor" in the defense's motion not to pursue the bond reduction.
Smith had told reporters that "under due diligence, we have to investigate. . .I've just got obligations. But right now, I don't have a comment."
Shepherd appeared before the court handcuffed and shackled in an orange jail-issue jumpsuit, and did not speak during the proceedings.
Byrd referred reporters to a capital murder complaint filed by Gilmer police Investigator Roxanne Warren on file in Judge Potter's office. It gives several details surrounding the shooting not previously revealed to the newspaper by authorities.
A summary follows:
Investigator Warren quotes police Lt. Ron Benge as saying "the defendant admitted to shooting Cheyenne Green at least two times after she allegedly refused to take him to the emergency room." (Mrs. Warren later says the victim was shot thrice).
According to the complaint, Susan Bates told police she was legally married to Shepherd, but they were estranged, and that he had sat with her at the football game until halftime. Ms. Bates said Shepherd and Ms. Green "had been involved in a custody battle over the child recently," but that Shepherd "had agreed to return him to. . .Green during halftime."
The document says Shepherd took the child into the parking lot alone to meet with Ms. Green. Then "Susan stated that at 9:03 p.m. she received a call from the defendant on her cell phone.
The defendant told her that she needed to come to the parking lot and retrieve Trenton from Cheyenne's car because he had done something bad.
"The defendant further stated to Susan that he could not take it anymore and that Cheyenne was dead. He further stated that he had shot Cheyenne outside her car."
Mrs. Warren said she had viewed a video recording of Shepherd following his arrest, and that "he clearly states that he retrieved his .357 handgun from his truck prior to entering the victim's car. He stated he entered into the rear passenger side of her four-door car. Their baby, Trenton, was seated in the middle back in his carseat and the victim's car was running.
"He (the defendant) stated he requested that she drive him to the emergency room for a possible heart attack. When she said no and began to call Susan Bates. . .who was inside the stadium to come and get him, he immediately pulled out his gun and began making demands to Cheyenne. He told her to hang the phone up and drive, drive somewhere away from the stadium.
"He stated the gun scared her and she tried to flee and free herself, when he shot the first round. Next, he exited the vehicle and ran around the car to find her seated on the ground and screaming. He then stated he shot her again and she laid down mumbling. Affiant (Mrs. Warren) attended the autopsy and knows that the victim was shot three times."
In addition, Investigator Warren wrote that she interviewed witnesses "who were at the game" who provided further information.
She also said she viewed a video recorded interview conducted by Lt. Benge with Shepherd's brother, Demarcris Lopez Shepherd, in which Demarcris said he rode with the defendant to the police department so Jonathan could turn himself in. Mrs. Warren said Demarcris stated he took possession of a handgun in the defendant's truck and ultimately turned the firearm over to police.
Mrs. Warren said she knew a .357 Glock handgun was recovered from the defendant's brother on September 26. She said it fires .357 bullets, and that a shell casing marked .357 sig was located at the crime scene, along with an unfired .357 bullet.
At the September 27 autopsy, said the investigator, she "observed gun powder residue on Cheyenne Green's face which is an indicator that the muzzle of the firearm was at close range" when the gun discharged.