Plea copped in notorious ‘pizza murder’
By Judith Pannebaker
The final chapter is almost concluded in the 2007 Kendall County murder of pizza deliveryman Leon Denver Poe.
On Thursday, Oct. 7, in lieu of standing trial for capital murder, Jennilee Ann Sheppard, 26, of San Antonio, pled guilty to aggravated robbery. The first degree felony is punishable by confinement in prison for a period of five to 99 years or life and up to a $10,000 fine. Sheppard will be sentenced on Thursday, Jan. 6, in Kendall County.
Last December, her accomplice and former boyfriend, Karl Anthony Hodson, 23, formerly of Lakehills, was found guilty of capital murder in Poe’s fatal stabbing and sentenced to life without parole. He is currently incarcerated in the Hughes Unit of the Texas Department of Corrections in Gatesville.
At that time, the state waived the death penalty due to Hodson’s lack of prior criminal history and for being “a model prisoner” during his nearly two and a half years of incarceration in the Kendall County Law Enforcement Center, according to 216th Assistant District Attorney Lucy Wilke.
Prior to Sheppard’s acceptance of the plea bargain, Wilke was also set to prosecute her.
In an email, Wilke explained the state’s decision to negotiate a plea bargain.
“To get a capital murder conviction - or even a murder conviction - the state must prove that Sheppard was guilty ‘as a party’ to the murder because she is not the one who actually stabbed the victim,” Wilke wrote. “To be convicted of capital murder or murder ‘as a party,’ you must prove that Sheppard aided or encouraged Hodson to commit the murder.”
According to Wilke, without question, Shepard planned and intended to commit an aggravated robbery. “She and Hodson had spoken about their plan to rob the pizza deliveryman and scare him into submission with knives to get his compliance. I think the plan was then to tie him up and leave him.”
However, neither Hodson nor Sheppard realized that Poe would physically resist their efforts and attempt to thwart the robbery by honking his car horn and screaming for help. Wilke added, “When he did, they panicked and Hodson stabbed him.”
In a statement made to Texas Ranger Kyle Dean while in custody, Hodson insisted that Sheppard did not know he was going to stab the victim.
At Hodson’s trial, his defense attorney Kurt Rudkin theorized that during the course of a scuffle, his client had accidentally slipped on gravel and plunged a dagger-type knife through the victim’s lower breastbone, esophagus and aorta, causing Poe to bleed internally.
“Part of the plea agreement was that there would be a deadly weapon finding - the knife - which made it an aggravated felony. Members of the parole review board and the Texas Department of Corrections consider this equivalent to a murder conviction,” Wilke explained. “In essence, this plea agreement is the same as allowing Sheppard to do an open plea to murder.”
As 216th District Judge Keith Williams explained during the Oct. 7 hearing, Sheppard’s “open plea” to aggravated robbery allows him to set her punishment within the established guidelines.
During the hearing, Wilke told Williams that the murder victim’s nearest relatives - an aunt and uncle - had approved the plea bargain agreement. “I think this was a just plea offer for the victim and his family,” Wilke said. Poe’s mother died of cancer shortly after Hodson was convicted of murdering her son.
As Williams explained to Sheppard, probation officers will conduct a pre-sentencing investigation prior to sentencing. “They will do an extensive background check,” Williams said, “then prepare a report and submit it to me so I can use the information to determine your sentence.” The report will also be submitted to Wilke and Sheppard’s defense attorney Harold Danford.
By agreeing to the amended indictment of aggravated robbery, Sheppard waived her right to a jury trial and to appeal the sentence, Williams said.
He then asked Sheppard if she pled guilty or not guilty to aggravated robbery. At this point in the proceedings, the defendant nearly threw a spanner in the works by pleading “not guilty” and breaking down in tears.
After consulting with Danford - and with extensive counseling by Williams - Sheppard finally entered a guilty plea to aggravated robbery.
After the hearing, Sheppard was returned to the Kendall County Law Enforcement Center where she has been held since being arrested for the 2007 murder in lieu of $750,000 bond.
Hodson’s parents, Karl and Carol Hodson of Medina Lake, were in the courtroom for last week’s proceedings, eager to inform the judge about Sheppard’s bad character. The couple believes that Sheppard actually murdered Poe and that their son continues to protect her.
According to Wilke, however, the Hodsons’ opinions about Sheppard could only be included in the pre-sentence investigation report.
In July 2007, Hodson and Sheppard lured the pizza deliveryman to a semi-isolated area of Kendall County by calling in a bogus order. After Poe’s murder, they covered his body with a trash bag and concealed his car, which remained undiscovered for 24 hours.
For their trouble, Hodson and Sheppard netted $30, $15 of which they spent on gas to get back to Hodson’s home in Lakehills, where the couple was staying. They also made off with the still-warm pizza order.