Supreme Court ruling could help man convicted in 1988 firefighter explosion

Bryan Sheppard's life sentence ruled unconstitutional

Jan. 26, 2016 KMBC 9 New

KANSAS CITY, Mo. —A U.S. Supreme Court ruling could end the life prison sentence for one of the people convicted in the 1988 fire that killed six Kansas City firefighters.

Bryan Sheppard, who was one of five people convicted of starting a fire at a construction site near 87th Street and U.S. Highway 71 more than 27 years ago, was 17 at the time. The fire triggered a massive explosion that killed six firefighters who came to the scene to put it out.

The court ruled Monday that it’s unconstitutional to sentence someone under the age of 18 to life without parole.

“He was a troublemaker. Got into all kinds of trouble. Dropped out of school. Got into fights. Been to jail once before,” said Andrew Johnson, who befriended Sheppard and now works for his release.

The convictions of Sheppard and the four others is controversial.

Johnson said the deaths of the six firefighters were awful.

“I think it’s equally awful that these five people who do not have any physical evidence against them (and who) have alibis, witnesses that support the alibis, end up being convicted of this crime,” Johnson said.

Sheppard was already asking for a new sentencing hearing as this other case moved to the Supreme Court. The ruling could affect him.

The influential Scotus Blog said the ruling suggests the courts not spend time on re-sentencing eligible inmates but consider parole, at least for inmates who claim to be reformed.

Sheppard now has his GED and a Facebook page suggests he is close to his family.

“As he’s been in prison, he’s gone to classes and stayed out of a lot of the drama that consumes people in prison,” Johnson said.

The impact of Monday’s ruling is still being assessed. Sheppard’s re-sentencing request was on hold as the other case moved through the court.

The ruling does not affect the other four people convicted in the case, all of whom were older than 18 when they were convicted.

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