Crime

Prosecutors contest prison release for defendant in deaths of KC firefighters in 1988

Little remained but the wreckage of fire trucks at the south Kansas City blast site where six Kansas City firefighters were killed in November 1988.
Little remained but the wreckage of fire trucks at the south Kansas City blast site where six Kansas City firefighters were killed in November 1988. kmyers@kcstar.com

Federal prosecutors argued on Friday that a man in prison for the 1988 killings of six Kansas City firefighters is not entitled to immediate release.

In a motion filed Monday, an attorney for Bryan Sheppard said that his sentence of life in prison without parole was unconstitutional and should be corrected.

The defense argued that his sentence was improperly enhanced because a judge, and not a jury, considered the factors used to increase his sentence.

Sheppard’s attorney, Cynthia Short, said he should have been sentenced to only a maximum of 10 years in prison, and because he has already served more than 20 years, he is now eligible for release.

But in a response filed Friday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Becker argued that Sheppard and the other four defendants all signed a waiver of their right to a jury sentencing.

A copy of that waiver, signed on Feb. 27, 1997, was attached to Friday’s government filing in U.S. District Court in Kansas City.

Becker also noted that Sheppard had previously raised the same issue and it was denied.

“The defendant’s 10-page motion is at best frivolous and should be summarily denied by the court,” Becker wrote.

Sheppard, now 45, was 17 in 1988 when an arson fire set at a construction site ignited a trailer full of explosive material. The ensuing explosion killed the six firefighters.

He was granted a new sentencing hearing after the U.S. Supreme Court found that it was unconstitutional to impose mandatory prison sentences of life without parole on juveniles.

Tony Rizzo: 816-234-4435, @trizzkc

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