CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Some 12 hours after the last of the three victims of the 2003 sniper-style slayings fell dead in the parking lots of rural Kanawha County convenience stores, a former U.S. Marshal said that witnesses pointed to Shawn Thomas Lester as the connection that linked the three shootings.
"We definitely had a comprehensive grasp that he was involved," said John Perrine, who led portions of the sniper investigation while he was a supervising deputy with the U.S. Marshals Service. Perrine has since retired from the U.S. Marshals and is now the Winfield chief of police.
But according to Perrine, a disconnect between the local agencies assisting with the investigation and the federal task force that headed the search for the killer created the nearly decade-long lag that prevented authorities from charging Lester, who pleaded guilty last week to second-degree murder charges linked to one of the three slayings.
In June, during a preliminary hearing leading to the trial, Kanawha County Chief Circuit Judge Duke Bloom refused to allow testimony from Perrine. The former Marshal would have revealed that Lester, when he was arrested on a supervised release violation shortly after the slayings, admitted that he was at the scene when Jeanie Patton, one of the three victims, was murdered.
Lester's defense team said that the testimony should have been prohibited because Lester, at the time, was not under arrest in connection with the slayings, and that his rights were never properly read to him. The judge agreed.
The FBI, Perrine told the Gazette, ignored the U.S. Marshals' assertions that Lester was systematically linked to victims Gary Carrier Jr., Patton, and Okey Meadows, Jr.
Carrier, a car enthusiast, often hung out at Lester's garage in Campbells Creek on Rutledge Road. Marty Walker, one of the people reportedly responsible for the theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of pink methamphetamine that Lester had stored in an engine block, was Jeanie Patton's common law husband.
Meadows, who police say wasn't involved in the drug theft and may have been randomly killed as a way to throw off the investigation, had known Lester since childhood.
Perrine said the FBI refused to listen, and told him to "let the professionals" handle the investigation.
"[It was] a deep wound that has festered over the years," Perrine said. "I'm a little touchy with it. I'm a little angry that people didn't give us our due."
Representatives from the FBI field office in Charleston did not return a phone call seeking comment.