criminal justice

Shoplifting Case Against Former Lifer Dropped, 27 Years Later

Delaware County's new district attorney dropped a 27-year-old case one day after taking office

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David Sheppard, a Philadelphia man whose life sentence was commuted by Gov. Tom Wolf, will not face any more prosecution for a 1992 shoplifting case in Delaware County, the new district attorney there said Wednesday.

Sheppard, now 54, was initially re-arrested for the old shoplifting charge after he was freed in December following 27 years in prison. He was sentenced to life in prison in late 1992 after being found guilty as an accomplice in a deadly pharmacy robbery in Philadelphia.

New Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer, who was sworn into office Tuesday, announced Sheppard's case would be dropped. The former DA, Katayoun Copeland, a Republican who lost her re-election bid last November, had promised to try Sheppard on the old charge in a public defiance to commutations of murder convicts by Gov. Tom Wolf's administration.

Sheppard has been free since a December bail hearing in Delaware County, in which the judge released him without bail as the case played out.

Stollsteimer's decision to drop the case took Sheppard's court-appointed defense attorney by surprise. Max Orenstein told NBC10 on Wednesday morning that he was not previously aware that Stollsteimer was planning to make any announcement in the case.

It was not immediately clear if Sheppard even knew Stollsteimer would be dropping the case.

Last year, Copeland 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."

After nearly three decades in state prison, Sheppard told NBC10 during an interview outside SCI Phoenix in Montgomery County that he has some simple goal to achieve.

"I’m trying to get a football and throw it with him because that was his request. And I’m definitely going to grant it," he said of playing catch with his now-adult son.

Learning the ins and outs of a cell phone was also on his list.

"I don’t have a clue. Y'all got any tips for me?" he asked reporters outside the prison gates.

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