criminal justice

Former Lifer Re-Arrested for Old Shoplifting Case to Go Free

Sheppard became stuck between forces fighting over reforms reshaping Pennsylvania's criminal justice system

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David Sheppard, a Philadelphia man whose life sentence was commuted by Gov. Tom Wolf, will walk free from a Pennsylvania prison for the first time in 27 years as early as Monday evening.

Sheppard, now 54, didn't know if that would happen when he walked into a Delaware County courtroom earlier Monday to address a judge for a 1992 shoplifting case that the local district attorney recently resurrected.

His attorney, Max Jordan Orenstein, told NBC10 that Sheppard was taken back to CSI Phoenix, a state prison in Montgomery County, after the hearing for processing, and that he would be released either Monday night or Tuesday.

Orenstein said the county assistant district attorney agreed at the hearing to drop a request to hold Sheppard in prison until the shoplifting case was finished. Common Pleas Judge Anthony Scanlon ordered Sheppard released without bail until his next hearing.

Delaware County DA Katayoun Copeland arrested Sheppard Friday as he got set to walk free on the murder conviction. That crime also took place in 1992. Sheppard was convicted and sentenced to life in prison that year for his role in a city pharmacy robbery. Another man who robbed the story with Sheppard shot and killed the owner.

Copeland, a Republican who lost a bid to another term in office in the November elections, argued that "the issue here is not about the shoplifting charge [but instead] the complete failure of the criminal justice system to give victims and their families a voice."

Sheppard's case became the center of a battle over criminal justice reform in Pennsylvania — and across the United States.

Copeland argued that the family of the victim in the fatal pharmacy robbery was not properly notified of Sheppard's release after Wolf commuted his sentence.

Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who has advocated reforming the justice system through ending mass incarceration and overhauling the use of parole and bail, called the arrest "a cheap political stunt of a losing elected official."

Sheppard's adult sons, who were young children when their dad went to prison, told NBC10 that he has served his time and deserves to be released.

"I feel like it's fair because, at the end of the day, a crime was committed [and] time was served," Devin Sheppard said.

The next scheduled court hearing for the shoplifting charge is Jan. 21, where Orenstein said he would argue for a dismissal of the case.

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