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2011-01-13

Sheppard gets 75 years for part in ‘pizza murder’

By Judith Pannebaker BCC

Jennilee Ann Sheppard, 27, was recently sentenced to 75 years in the Texas Department of Corrections for participating in the 2007 stabbing death of Leon Denver Poe in Kendall County.
Under the first degree felony plea, she could have been sentenced to five to 99 years to life in prison.
Backstory
Last December, her accomplice and then-boyfriend, Karl Anthony Hodson, 24, formerly of Medina Lake, 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. Hodson has since appealed his sentence.
In lieu of standing trial for capital murder, last October, Sheppard, a former resident of San Antonio, pled guilty to aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon.
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 where the couple was staying. They also made off with the still-warm pizza order.
‘Loving & caring’
During the sentencing hearing on Thursday, Jan. 6, Sheppard’s defense attorney, Harold Danford of Kerrville, repeatedly cited Sheppard’s “low self esteem” and purported intoxication at the time of the botched robbery as reasons behind her involvement in the ill-starred plan.
Character witnesses testifying on Sheppard’s behalf included friends from high school and Palo Alto Community College who described Sheppard as “the best person I know” and “loving and caring.” One called Hodson “possessive” of Sheppard and attributed bruises found on Sheppard’s body as the result of “rough sex,” as explained by Sheppard.
Other defense witnesses included Sheppard’s stepfather and mother, Dave and Kimberly Sonnen. Both downplayed the incident that led to their daughter’s living with the Hodson family in Lakehills. Sheppard was sharing Karl Hodson’s room at the time of Poe’s murder.
Under cross-examination by Assistant District Attorney Lucy Wilke, Dave Sonnen said that Sheppard left the family home with Hodson after refusing to clean her room. He testified that her mother had said, “If you go out, don’t come back” - advice Sheppard apparently took.
‘No natural radar’
For her part, Kimberly Sonne said Sheppard had no natural radar when it came to her choice of boyfriends. She described her daughter as a “sweet and sensitive [person] who wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
Referring to the court-mandated pre-sentencing investigation (PSI), Wilke asked Kimberly Sonne about Sheppard’s allegations that she had consumed alcohol and drugs at an early age - and had, in fact, imbibed alcohol on occasion with her mother.
Dismissing those assertions, Sonne said, “I think she’s confused. We never drank together.”
Sonne also characterized her daughter moving in with Hodson as “the craziest thing she ever heard.”
Low self-esteem defense
Another witness for the defense, psychiatrist Robert Cantu, MD, said Sheppard suffered from depression and a personality disorder “regarding how she relates to herself, the world and other people.” He stopped short, however, of diagnosing her with a mental disorder. During his two two-hour evaluations of Sheppard, Cantu said he discerned no evidence of sociopathic traits. “I found a depressed, isolated young girl with low self esteem,” he said.
Cantu recommended that Sheppard abstain from alcohol and mind-altering drugs; commit to weekly therapy sessions for two to five years to treat her low self esteem, depression and anxiety; submit to periodic drug and alcohol tests; be in regular contact with a probation officer; assume responsibility for her actions; and have a bi-yearly assessment.
In Cantu’s opinion, Sheppard had “learned from her mistakes and had a low risk for re-offending.”
Under Wilke’s cross-examination, Cantu said Sheppard suffered from “situational depression.”
“She’s been incarcerated for three years,” Wilke pointed out. “Who wouldn’t be depressed?”
Cantu also admitted that Sheppard’s alleged state of intoxication prior to Poe’s murder was based merely on her statements.
Wilke referred to varied accounts Sheppard had offered in interviews and the PSI as instances of her duplicity. Referring to Sheppard’s admitted involvement in a robbery by knifepoint on San Antonio’s Riverwalk, Wilke asked Cantu, “Don’t you think that would be important when you evaluate her future danger to society? Is a person that easily influenced a danger to society?”
The ADA also noted that in previous testimony Sheppard admitted to planning to rob a pizza man - a statement which she did not reiterate in the PSI.
“The lying concerns me,” Cantu admitted. “There’s no good explanation for it.”
Count me out!
Wilke called to the stand Devon Bruce, who admitted to planning a robbery with Hodson, Sheppard and others. “They said they would have a pizza delivered to a random location and rob [the delivery man],” Bruce said. Both Hodson and Sheppard were equally involved in the planning of the robbery, Bruce indicated. He also admitted that ultimately he had opted out of the proposed robbery.
In her statement, Sheppard said tearfully, “I’m really sorry. I wish I could do something to trade places [with Poe]. I realize the consequences and I’m really sorry.”
During his summation, Danford asked 216th District Judge Keith Williams for leniency for his client. “For the last three years, Jennilee has been remorseful. She’s had no history of violence. This incident was out of character.” Blaming the murder of Poe, which he called “unfortunate” on Sheppard’s low self esteem, bad choices and drinking, Danford said, “She didn’t plan to stab or hurt anyone. The plan didn’t include murder.”
“Just a pizza deliverer’
Wilke countered that Sheppard wasn’t remorseful about Poe’s murder, but rather because she had been caught. “Poe’s death was not unfortunate; it was a tragedy. From day one, Jennilee Sheppard minimized her involvement in the murder.” Wilke went on to say that the state had never before heard anything about Sheppard’s “terrible upbringing” and low self esteem.
“They planned this with others and everyone backed out except Karl Hodson and Jennilee Sheppard,” Wilke said. “That was what they planned and that’s what they did.”
Wilke also alluded to a conversation Sheppard had with a former cellmate, Tasha Jones, in which she had bragged about the murder, saying “after all he was just a pizza deliverer.” “When she spoke about trading places with the victim, it was just an act for the court,” Wilke concluded.
‘Incomprehensible’
Prior to delivering Sheppard’s sentence, 216th District Judge Keith Williams said he had spoken to the jury after they found Hodson guilty of capital murder. “They couldn’t understand how something like this could have happened and I have the same questions here,” he said. “However, there must be consequences for a person’s actions.”
Williams painted a grim picture of Poe’s body concealed in his vehicle in the heat of a South Central Texas summer. “A man was dead and rotting in a field and you were eating pizza and making love,” Williams said. “This is incomprehensible to me.” Equally as incomprehensible was the fact that Sheppard had not shown “enormous remorse” as facts began to unfold about the murder.
Characterizing Sheppard as a “cold-hearted, cold-blooded person,” Williams said, “You were a willing participant in the episode. This was a foreseeable event.”
He recalled the last images of Poe fighting for his life after being bound with duct tape. “Leon Denver Poe had two little kids and he was just trying to make ends meet.”
Prior to sentencing Sheppard to 75 years in prison, Williams noted, “Mr. Poe is still deceased and you’re still alive. I don’t understand it, ma’am. “I’m sorry for what led us all here, but there must be consequences. It’s a tragedy all the way around, but there has to be consequences.”
Regarding the sentence, Wilke said, “The sentence is the equivalent to a life sentence because Ms. Sheppard will have to serve 30 calendar years - day for day - before she becomes eligible for parole. This does not mean, of course, the she will be granted parole, just that she is eligible. She will also get credit for the three and a half years she has already served. Any sentence of 60 years or more, including life, requires 30 calendar years before parole eligibility.”
As the defendant was led away, her family called our, “Jennilee, we love you.”
For their part, Hodson’s parents, Karl and Carol Hodson of Medina Lake, continue to believe that Sheppard actually murdered Poe and that their son continues to protect her.