EYEWITNESS LOCAL NEWSFEDERAL GUN CHARGES
from Eyewitness News Online
Lester Federal Plea Rejected; State Sniper Conviction In Question
Reported by: Bethany Simmons
Web Producer: Jeff Morris
Also Contributing: Kallie Cart
Reported: Sep. 26, 2012 2:12 PM EDT
Updated: Sep. 27, 2012 9:01 AM EDT
Charleston , Kanawha County , West Virginia
After nearly a decade, many thought the sniper case was nearly closed, but not so fast. A decision in federal court Wednesday may have changed everything.
Sniper Shawn Lester was set to be sentenced on federal gun charges, the final piece of the sniper puzzle even though the cases are unrelated. But the federal judge rejected the plea and now everything that has led up to this is up in the air, including Lester's conviction and sentence in the sniper case.
Lester pleaded guilty to the federal gun charges earlier this year. The federal prosecution and defense had agreed upon a sentence of 20 years for the two charges; Lester would serve that time while he was serving time for his second-degree murder charge in the sniper case. Also in the deal, federal drug charges against him were to be thrown out.
But U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver said Wednesday that deal was really no punishment and refused the plea. In doing so, he also allowed Lester to withdraw his guilty plea to the gun charges, which Lester did.
But what the judge did not know is that Lester's plea in the sniper case was contingent upon Copenhaver accepting Lester's plea in federal court, the federal prosecutor and defense attorney said. Now, it's unknown what is going to happen.
Families of all three sniper victims were in federal court Wednesday. They say they are frustrated. They thought they were finally going to put the case behind them and now are uncertain what the future holds.
What is known for certain is that Lester will be tried on the federal gun and drug charges in November. It is unclear, however, what is going to happen in state court. State prosecutors say it is conceivable that Lester will try to withdraw his plea to second-degree murder in the sniper case, in which he's already been sentenced to 40 years. There is no telling if that will happen or even be allowed to happen in state court. If it's not allowed to happen, Lester could challenge his state case and the sniper case could even go as far as the state Supreme Court. But at this point, it's all hypothetical and everyone will have to wait and see what happens.
The man charged in the Kanawha Valley sniper-style shootings appeared in federal court Wednesday afternoon to find out just how long he will spend in prison on gun charges he pleaded guilty to earlier this year.
Judge John Copenhaver shot down federal prosecutors and federal defense attorney’s proposed plea agreement for Shawn Lester's sentencing to run concurrently with the state charges.
The judge issued a brief recess Wednesday to give the defendant an opportunity to reconsider his guilty plea in the gun case.
Stay tuned to Eyewitness News for the latest on this developing story.
July 10, 2012
The suspect in the Kanawha County sniper murders has been indicted by a federal grand jury on drug charges.
Shawn Lester, 37, allegedly distributed oxycodone and cocaine near Sissonville from at least 2005 through March, 2011, according to the indictment.
Lester faces up to 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine, if convicted.
Lester is also accused in the sniper style murders of Jeannie Patton, Okey Meadows Jr. and Gary Carrier in 2003. He will stand trial for those murders at the end of the month.
Lester was also indicted in 2011 on two counts of illegal firearm possession.
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