A Kansas City man pleaded guilty Wednesday in the 2017 fatal shooting of an off-duty Lee’s Summit police officer.
Sean D. Steward, 23, pleaded guilty to a charge of second-degree murder, admitting that he shot Thomas Orr III in the middle of a crowded daytime party at a Westport restaurant.
The guilty plea came a day after Steward’s trial started in Jackson County Circuit Court. Afterward, the slain police officer’s mother said she forgave Steward.
Steward was also convicted on charges of assault, armed criminal action, unlawful use of a weapon and being a felon in possession of a firearm.
As part of a plea agreement, he received a sentence of 18 years in prison.
Under Missouri law, second-degree murder is a Class A felony and the sentencing range is from 10 years to life.
Orr, 30, was off duty when he was fatally shot on Aug. 20, 2017, at a Sunday afternoon party at Californos restaurant in Westport.
Police said Orr, who also was a middle school resource officer, was not the intended target. He was an innocent bystander.
On the first day of the trial, prosecutors played several 911 calls made immediately after the shooting. Witnesses described the chaotic scene as dozens of partygoers rushed from the restaurant while police and emergency pushed their way inside to attend to Orr, who was resting against a bar stool.
A single bullet struck Orr in the back of his right shoulder. The bullet traveled to his lung and caused substantial internal bleeding.
A dental student told investigators that she tried to administer first aid. But Orr died at the scene.
As Steward was sentenced Wednesday, the victim’s mother Renay Orr told Steward that he caused her family unspeakable pain.
But, she said, they forgave him.
“I wanted him to know that he (Thomas) just wasn’t a police officer,” Renay Orr said afterward. “Yes, he was a police officer, he was a resource officer but most of all he was our son, our oldest son and he (Steward) just took him away for no reason at all.”
“I wanted him (Steward) to know he is forgiven but I wanted him to take time and think about his actions,” she said.
Jordan Bergus, an assistant Jackson County prosecutor, told Circuit Judge Jalilah Otto that authorities recovered “a treasure trove” of weapons and ammunition from a house at 44th and Olive streets when they arrested Steward about a month after the shooting.
In exchange for the guilty plea, prosecutors said they would ask federal authorities not to pursue felony gun charges against Steward.
Jalilah, in accepting the agreement, told Steward, “Mr. Orr may not have been the intended victim but someone was.”
On the day of the shooting, Orr was attending the party at Californos and taking photos, as he often did, according to witnesses. He was not on duty.
He had been with the Lee’s Summit Police Department since March 2015 and began assignment as a middle school resource officer on Aug. 14. Before that, he had worked for the Marshall, Mo., Police Department.
Orr was shot as an innocent bystander amid a violent disturbance that suddenly broke out in the middle of the crowded party, according to court records.
It began when one man struck another in the face, causing him to fall to the floor.
Steward then fired a handgun into the crowd as he fled the party, running down a flight of stairs, exiting through a lower entrance of the restaurant and speeding away in a dark-color Dodge Charger.
The bullets Steward fired killed Orr and injured a woman.
The investigation of the shooting went on for weeks.
On social media sites, police found photos from the party with names that witnesses said were identified with Steward. The photos had the Facebook names of “Stew Bird and Cuzzo Jay,” according to court records.
The man who was hit before the shooting was assaulted from behind and did not see the shooter, according to prosecutors.
Defense attorney John Picerno said the plea agreement helped his client avoid spending the rest of his life in prison.
“I thought we had a good chance to win at trial, however based on the fact that he would have to deal with the federal case afterward the plea bargain in this situation was sort of a no-brainer,” Picerno said. “There is no doubt about it, why would you risk two or three years more versus dying in prison.”
Lee’s Summit Police Chief Travis Forbes thanked the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office for their work on the case.
“Obviously, there is no amount of justice that will account for the life that a man like Thomas Orr lived,” Forbes said. “His contributions to our community will never be forgotten. Like many victims of this senseless type of crime, we wish we could have him back. My thoughts today are with Thomas’s family, our community, and our family at LSPD.”
“Rest in peace, Thomas,” he said.