A Pennsylvania man who earned a reprieve from a life sentence only to be held on a long-ago Delaware County shoplifting charge is back on track to be released.
David Sheppard’s case has become something of a political football in the debate over criminal justice reform and victims’ rights.
Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf approved his clemency bid after a unanimous vote of the five-member state pardons board. But outgoing Delaware County District Attorney Katayoun Copeland, a Republican, detained him hours before his release Friday on the decades-old shoplifting charge.
Sheppard spent another weekend in state prison before Copeland’s office declined to seek bail at a hearing Monday on the shoplifting charge, which involved several pairs of jeans taken from a now-defunct store, defense lawyer Max Orenstein said. The case will now be handled in January by a new prosecutor skeptical of pursuing the case.
Orenstein said he expects his 54-year-old client, who has served 27 years in prison for his role in a fatal 1992 robbery, to be released to a halfway house by Tuesday.
Sheppard was 29 when he took part in a robbery in Overbrook and his accomplice shot 64-year-old Thomas Brannan, owner of Love’s Pharmacy. His life sentence for murder was one of eight Wolf commuted last week.
Lt. Gov. John Fetterman considers Copeland’s intervention an attack on the state pardons board, which he leads.
“I would have a conversation with anyone about the merits of commutation,” Fetterman said Monday. “But to invoke a 30-year-old shoplifting charge, it just diminishes the whole process.”
Copeland, in a statement Friday, aimed her criticism at the fact the victim’s family was not notified of the pardons board hearing this fall.
A spokeswoman for the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office said they reached out to the family after the hearing, when they realized they were not registered as victim contacts.
“Victims have a right to be heard, when they were there and they sat through the trial,” Copeland said Monday. “We weren’t seeking for him to spend any more jail time. We wanted the governor to hear from them before he chose to sign off.”