For robbery, murder plot, judge adds 6 years to Lester's term
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A robbery and murder plot Shawn Thomas Lester concocted just days before he was arrested in connection to the 2003 sniper-style killings factored into a federal judge's decision to tack six years onto Lester's 40-year prison term.
After noting Monday that Lester is a man "from whom the public needs protection," U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver sentenced Lester to six years in prison on federal gun possession charges, adding to the 40-year maximum he will spend in state prison for his role in the murder of Jeanie Patton, one of three people shot and killed outside of a Kanawha County convenience store in 2003.
Copenhaver said he based the decision on recordings a confidential informant gave to police just days before Lester was arrested and charged with Patton's murder.
In the recordings, which were played during Monday's sentencing, Lester tells the informant he has plans to break into a West Side apartment, subdue its occupant with a stun gun, murder him and make off with more than $40,000 worth of prescription pills.
Charleston Police Lt. Steve Cooper said that the informant is still involved with several state and federal investigations and asked media outlets who attended the hearing to refrain from releasing his name.
In March 2011, Lester told the informant over the phone that he wanted help "hitting a lick," which is street slang that commonly refers to robbing someone. Lester said he suspected that the man who lives in the apartment directly above his friend was hoarding thousands of prescription pills.
At one point during the recordings, the informant tells Lester that the man may be able to finger him for the crime later.
"I ain't worried about that," Lester responds, according to the tape. "I'll probably end up having to kill him."
Lester asks the informant if he can use his stun gun to carry out the robbery. The informant tells him that the man may have the pills well-hidden.
"I don't give a [expletive]," Lester said. "He'll talk."
It's not clear what Lester intended to do with the stun gun, or in what manner he intended to carry out the killing.
Lester's attorney, Deirdre Purdy, accused the informant of goading Lester into committing the crime -- using street lingo to gain his trust and pretending to go along with illegal activity.
The informant explained that during parts of the conversation he was actually trying to prevent Lester from committing the robbery. He also said that after he learned of the plot, he met the neighbor at a Wendy's and tipped him off.
"I have to maintain a persona that I'm not going to run to the police," the informant said. "Someone who doesn't do drugs, like me, has to be able to sit at the table with Shawn Lester."
The informant balked at accusations that Lester wouldn't have come up with the robbery-murder plot without his help and indicated that Lester was a self-proclaimed hit man that actively sought and carried out "murder for hire" jobs.
"By no means would I have to provoke Shawn Lester to rob somebody," he said.
Implications that Lester might have been involved in slayings outside of the 2003 sniper killings surfaced publicly in August, when the Gazette reported that at least one body might be buried at the Sissonville property of Rodney "Big Rod" Shaffer. Lester stayed on the property in the mid-2000s, often acting as an "enforcer" for Shaffer, who police say helped operate a Kanawha County front for a multimillion-dollar cross-state drug network.
That drug operation proved to be the catalyst for the 2003 killings, investigators say. Patton's husband, Marty Walker, reportedly stole an engine block from Lester's car garage on Rutledge Road. Hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of rare methamphetamine was hidden inside the engine.
Prosecutors and police said Lester killed Patton in revenge for the theft. As part of his second-degree murder plea in state court, Lester did not admit to firing the bullet that killed Patton.
Police say Lester also is responsible for the death of Gary Carrier Jr., who helped Walker steal the engine. A third man, Okey Meadows Jr., was targeted at random to throw off the investigation, police said. All three victims were felled by bullets from a .22 Magnum caliber Marlin rifle.
Shaffer died in 2008.
Lester was the suspect in the killing of another man in Kentucky. The man, Timothy Sigman, was connected to the drug operation and knew inside details of the 2003 killings. Lester killed Sigman because he feared he would go to police, another informant had told investigators.
Lester's federal charges, which Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg McVey has said prosecutors sought as leverage in the state murder case, were based on two instances in 2007 when a security camera at the Shaffer home captured footage of Lester holding a sawed-off shotgun.
Lester had been previously convicted of a felony and thus was prohibited from carrying a firearm.
Sandra Kay Shaffer, "Big Rod" Shaffer's wife, testified Monday that she installed the cameras because she suspected that her husband was having an affair. She also confirmed that Lester and Shaffer fired the weapons on the property, with Lester on one occasion shooting a neighbor's dog. On another occasion, he put the gun in his pants while he was trying to ward off people who had attempted to confront Rodney Shaffer at the home.
Monday's sentencing marks the end of any pending criminal proceedings involving Lester in the near future. Purdy said in a sentencing memorandum that Lester will likely serve 20 years of his 40-year prison sentence. His federal term will begin immediately after the state term.
He declined to give a statement before Copenhaver handed down the sentence.
"I doubt it will do any good, no sir," Lester told the judge.
Reach Zac Taylor at email@example.com or 304-348-5189.