A Reporter Recounts How Bryan Sheppard's Release from Prison Took a Village plus 20 years
What finally pried the cell door open last week for Bryan Sheppard, one of the defendants in the 1988 explosion deaths of six Kansas City firefighters, was a 2012 Supreme Court decision barring life sentences for juveniles.
But the run-up to Sheppard’s release, and an issue that may have influenced an extraordinary order by U.S. District Judge Fernando J. Gaitan releasing Sheppard with time served, was a sustained, yearslong questioning of the case by local attorneys, journalists, activists and even the local theater community.
Tom Jackman, a reporter for The Washington Post, covered the trial when he was with The Kansas City Star in 1997, and it has haunted him ever since. Under questioning from Jackman during a post-trial interview on Kansas City Public Television years ago, the U.S. attorney at the time acknowledged that the five-week trial failed to explain exactly what happened the night of the deadly construction site blast.
Shortly after the trial another former Star reporter, the late J.J. Maloney, an ex-convict himself, wrote a two-part series for the New Times newspaper here that simply declared the defendants innocent.