The stolen jeans were recovered and the Delaware County denim shop they were swiped from closed long ago. Now, the 1992 retail-theft charge against David Sheppard has been dropped as well.
“We are ending the prosecution of ... this 28-year-old retail-theft case of a pair of jeans that never left the Springfield Mall,” newly sworn-in Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer said at a news conference Wednesday. “We are not going to spend another dollar of taxpayers’ money pursuing that case.”
It was among the first official actions taken by Stollsteimer, who campaigned as a progressive in a county that had never before elected a Democrat to the post. And it brings to a close a case that had drawn national attention, symbolizing a political and philosophical divide over efforts to revive Pennsylvania’s long-dormant and -dysfunctional commutation process.
Sheppard, 54, spent most of the 28 years he was supposedly a fugitive from Delaware County in a Pennsylvania state prison, serving a life sentence for second-degree murder. In December, Gov. Tom Wolf granted him a commutation — an act of clemency that in recent years has been granted to fewer than 1% of Pennsylvania’s lifers.
Then-Delaware County District Attorney Katayoun M. Copeland then said she would pursue the old retail-theft case out of a sense of justice, over concern that the commutation had advanced without victim input.
Sheppard, known as “Wavy,” was 29 when he took part in the robbery of Love’s Pharmacy in Overbrook and his accomplice fatally shot the owner, 64-year-old Thomas Brannan. Brannan’s daughter, Regina Marcellus, now 58, said that the murder devastated her family and their community, and that their pain was renewed when they learned that the Board of Pardons had recommended Sheppard for commutation by Wolf without giving her family a chance to weigh in.
Stollsteimer praised former Senior Deputy District Attorney Daniel McDevitt, who led the push to prosecute the retail-theft case, for ensuring that the victims then had their say before the governor granted clemency. (Stollsteimer also said he had himself reached out to Brannan’s family before deciding to withdraw the charges.)
“But everything the office did" other than McDevitt’s outreach was questionable, he said. Stollsteimer announced McDevitt’s termination in December, along with about one-quarter of the District Attorney’s Office staff.
He called the retail-theft case a “political stunt” through which Copeland was “auditioning for a job in the Trump administration.” He noted that it could have yielded serious consequences because a new criminal conviction would have overturned Sheppard’s commutation.
Lt. Gov. John Fetterman likewise said he met with the family in December — but he still took to social media to rail against the retail-theft prosecution, which drew national media coverage and even Twitter advocacy from Kim Kardashian.
Fetterman contended that the case was a waste of government resources, since Sheppard had already served more than 25 years in prison. Even with commutation, he is required to live in a halfway house for a year and will spend the rest of his life on parole.
Reached by phone before his release from prison, Sheppard expressed confusion about the political division that had swept his case into the spotlight. “This can’t be about no 30-year-old retail theft,” he said.
Sheppard, a father of five and grandfather of 13, said he hopes to move to Hagerstown, Md., where his brother has a room and a custodial job waiting for him.