Crime

New sentencing is likely for inmate in 1988 firefighter deaths

Bryan E. Sheppard was 17 in 1988 when an arson fire triggered a massive explosion that killed six firefighters at a south-central Kansas City construction site. Sheppard was one of five defendants convicted in the case and sentenced to life in prison.
Bryan E. Sheppard was 17 in 1988 when an arson fire triggered a massive explosion that killed six firefighters at a south-central Kansas City construction site. Sheppard was one of five defendants convicted in the case and sentenced to life in prison.

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling Monday should clear the way for a new sentencing hearing for the youngest man convicted in one of Kansas City’s most infamous crimes.

Bryan E. Sheppard was 17 in 1988 when an arson fire triggered a massive explosion that killed six firefighters at a south-central Kansas City construction site.

Sheppard was one of five defendants convicted in the case and sentenced to life in prison.

Sheppard, now 44, previously had been granted a new sentencing hearing after a 2012 Supreme Court decision found that it was unconstitutional to impose mandatory prison sentences of life without parole on juveniles.

The rulings did not outlaw such sentences outright but required hearings to consider if such a sentence is appropriate in each case.

But Sheppard’s resentencing was put on hold pending a ruling on the case decided Monday.

In it, the court ruled that the ban can be applied to cases such as Sheppard’s that occurred prior to the 2012 decision.

“It’s pretty clear now that it is retroactive,” said Kansas City attorney Cynthia Short, who represents Sheppard. “And we should be moving forward.”

Short said that Sheppard has been a model prisoner who has participated in numerous prison programs and maintained close relationships with his daughter and grandchildren.

He is one of only 36 inmates in the federal prison system who could be affected by the Supreme Court ruling, she said.

Missouri has 81 offenders in state prisons who could be affected by the decision, according to the Missouri Department of Corrections.

A spokeswoman for Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said his office is reviewing the ruling.

Tony Rizzo: 816-234-4435, @trizzkc

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