Bryan Sheppard’s long wait for freedom ended late Monday afternoon in a deep embrace with the daughter who never gave up on him.
Sheppard, the youngest of five people convicted in the 1988 arson fire that killed six Kansas City firefighters, walked free Monday for the first time in nearly 22 years.
“It’s overwhelming, really,” Sheppard said moments after his release. “I didn’t know if it was ever going to come.”
Sheppard was released after a judge on Friday cut his life sentence to 20 years.
His attorney, Cynthia Short, and his daughter, Ashley Keeney, spent Monday outside a private prison facility in Leavenworth waiting for officials to process all of the paperwork needed for Sheppard’s release.
When it came, Sheppard couldn’t stop beaming and hugging Keeney.
“My daughter is amazing,” he said.
He got little sleep Sunday, he said. And he spent a long day Monday waiting for his first day of freedom since Aug. 29, 1995.
“Excited. Nervous. Stressed,” he said of the day.
After a brief interview with The Star, which was the only local news media present for his release, Sheppard said he was eager to see other family members who were waiting for him.
“One step at a time,” he said. “Hanging out with my family is the only thing that matters.”
Now 45, Sheppard was granted a new sentencing hearing after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that it is unconstitutional to impose mandatory life sentences on juveniles without first taking into account their individual characteristics and life history.
He was 17 at the time of the crime he was convicted of.
U.S. District Judge Fernando Gaitan Jr. heard testimony in Sheppard’s case Feb. 15 and announced his decision Friday.
Sheppard was the only one of the defendants affected by the Supreme Court decision.
The Nov. 29, 1988, arson fire caused a truckload of ammonium nitrate to detonate in an early morning explosion that could be felt and heard throughout Kansas City.
Fire Capts. Gerald Halloran and James Kilventon Jr. and firefighters Thomas Fry, Luther Hurd, Robert D. McKarnin and Michael Oldham died in the blast.