Sheppard was released after nearly 30 years prison. He served as a lookout in the robbery of Love Pharmacy, in Overbrook, Pennsylvania. Beloved pharamacist Thomas Brannan was killed in the robbery. Sheppard’s case garnered support from Kim Kardashian, and was one of the cases featured on “Kim Kardashian: The Justice Project,” a two-hour documentary special which airs on Oxygen at 7 p.m. EST Sunday, April 5, 2020. Also featured was another man who was released early from prison, Momolu Stewart, who had been ordered to serve life in prison in a fatal shooting when he was 16. Read more about Stewart here. Another shocking case was the story of Alexis Martin, a human trafficking survivor who is serving a 21-year prison sentence in the death of her pimp when she was just 15. Read more about Martin’s story here.
Sheppard’s release has not been without controversy – on both sides – and the case has featured some surprising twists and turns.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Hours Before David Sheppard’s Release, He Was Detained for Failing to Appear in Court on a Retail Theft Charge in 1992
In a surprising move, then-Delaware County District Attorney Kat Copeland filed a detainer for David Sheppard just hours before his release from prison. Sheppard had been granted clemency in the case, and his release was ordered. But his future was uncertain after the detainer was filed. Copeland filed the detainer in a 1992 retail theft case. He had failed to appear in court nearly three decades earlier for stealing $324.95 in jeans from a now-defunct store, Jeans West, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
He told ABC 6 before his release, the retail theft case caused him sleeplessness, wondering what would happen.
“Sleepless. Sleepless. There was no sleep happening. Until after court. I finally got to sleep last night,” Sheppard said. “I got some sleep because the nonsense was over with; 30-year-old retail theft was over with. Ridiculous.”
However, Copeland told CBS Philadephia she filed the detainer because the family of the victim, Thomas Brannan, was not notified of Sheppard’s motion for clemency.
“The question should be asked, what efforts were made? Because here, there was clearly a breakdown in the system which has yet to be acknowledged,” she said.
In the fatal robbery case, he was charged with murder, carrying a firearm in a public street or place, robbery, carrying a firearm without a license, possession of an instrument of crime, conspiracy and two counts of theft, according to the criminal docket sheet filed in his case. The case was filed by Philadelphia Police Department in Philadelphia County. View his docket sheet here. He also faced drug charges in 1989. You can view that case here.
2. David Sheppard’s Charges in his Decades-Old Retail Theft Case Were Dropped & He Planned to Live With his Brother & Spend Time With his Children & Grandchildren
The move by outgoing Delaware District Attorney Kate Copeland to file a detainer on David Sheppard was knocked by the incoming district attorney and by Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman. The new Delaware County District Attorney, Jack Stollsteimer, announced in January 2020 that he was dropping the charges that had been filed to hold Sheppard, according to Delco Today.
“I just wanted to announce that we are ending the prosecution of the Delaware County case — the… 28-year-old case of a pair of jeans that never left the Springfield Mall. We are not going to spend another dollar of the taxpayer’s money pursuing that case,” he said, according to the publication.
Copeland told CBS Philadelphia she filed the detainer because the family of victim Thomas Brannan had not been notified of Sheppard’s motion for clemency. Sheppard told The Philadelphia Inquirer he hoped the case could be resolved with probation.
“I’m trying to figure out what I’m caught in the middle of,” he said. “I don’t think it’s about me. I don’t know if it’s a political thing. It can’t be about no 30-year-old retail theft.”
He told the newspaper he had a job in building maintenance waiting for him in Hagerstown, Maryland, where he planned to live with his brother, Ronald. He also looked forward to spending time with his five children and 13 grandchildren.
3. David Sheppard Was Granted Clemency by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf in December 2019
David Sheppard was released from prison after he was granted clemency from Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf on December 10, 2019. Sheppard walked out of the State Correctional Institution at Phoenix in Pennsylvania after serving 27 years in prison. He had been sentenced to life in prison for his role in the death of pharmacist Thomas Brannan. Sheppard is 54 years old.
“God is good, God delivered his promises. Holding to his promises, and he prevailed,” Sheppard said as he was released, according to ABC 6.
He told the news station he planned to “get something to eat and learn how to work a cell phone because I don’t have a clue.”
The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections shows that Sheppard was paroled. His prison records said he was incarcerated at SCI Phoenix, and was committed by Philadephia County. It listed his current location as the Philadelphia Community Corrections Center. The listing was last updated April 5, 2020. The Philadelphia CCC inmate search returned no results for Sheppard. He has no active criminal cases in Pennsylvania, according to Pennsylvania’s Unified Judicial System.
4. David Sheppard Acted as the Lookout for the Pharmacy Robbery That Claimed the Life of Thomas Brannan
Thomas Brannan was a pharmacist and a philanthropist, who was a beloved member of his community in Overbrook, Pennsylvania, family friend Christine Flowers wrote in the Delco Times. He owned a pharmacy in town, called Love Pharmacy. On November 12, 1992, David Sheppard and another man went into the store and bought antacid. Sheppard’s role was to serve as the lookout.
Maureen Quinn, a cashier, was one of those who testified at a preliminary hearing, as reported by The Philadelphia Inquirer at the time.
“(Moments later a shot rang out.) I ran to the back. Mr. Brannan was lying on the floor. He was bleeding from his lower right side. (Hawthorne demanded drugs.) Sheppard asked where the safe was, and I told him we didn’t have a safe, and the only money we had was in the register. (Quinn said she was ordered to open a small, locked cabinet and put the drugs into a bag. Before she could hand the bag to the robbers, the gunman in the rear shot Brannan,)” Flowers wrote for the Delco Times, referencing the testimony.
Sheppard testified that it wasn’t his intention for Brannan to be killed, and that the pharmacist had cooperated, handing over everything the robber asked for.
“Nobody should have got shot … because the guy gave up everything, and there was no reason for Hawthorne to shoot him. He was an old guy,” Sheppard testified, according to the Delco Times.
5. David Sheppard’s Clemency Was the Subject of Controversy Because his Family Was Not Notified of Hearings
David Sheppard’s release was the subject of controversies, which prompted another controversial move – detaining the man for failure to appear in a nearly 30-year-old retail theft case. Christine Flowers, a family friend, wrote about what the victim, Thomas Brannan, meant to the community in a Delco Times column. Brannan was a pharmacist and owner of Love Pharmacy who was killed in Overbrook, Pennsylvania November 12, 1992 during a robbery. Sheppard was serving as a lookout.
“Thomas Brannan was a man loved as much by his community as by his own family,” Flowers wrote. “I went to school with his daughter Regina at Merion Mercy, so I have some idea of how much he was adored by his wife and children. Multiply that by a hundred, a thousand, and you get to a reasonable appreciation for what this man, a pharmacist by trade and philanthropist at heart, meant to his community. His business, the aptly named Love Pharmacy in Overbrook, was a place where 35 years worth of people could get the things they needed to settle an upset stomach, calm a raging fever, soothe an abrasion or get their prescriptions filled with efficiency, and kindness. Thomas Brannan was beloved.”
Flowers went on to write that Brannan’s family was not notified of hearings for Sheppard, and did not have a chance to speak in court.
“The way they found out about it was when an assistant District Attorney from Delco called to let them know what was going on. The Board of Pardons, overseen by Fetterman, did not have the decency to let Regina Brannan Marcellus and her sisters know that one of the men who was responsible for their father’s murder was up for a sweet deal, something their father had been denied: a chance to go home to his family. This is another example of how victims are increasingly irrelevant to those who only want to make life easier, better, more just for those who have been convicted of felonies,” Flowers wrote.
She continued, saying that many accounts of the Sheppard case spoke about his reform, but did not talk about Brannan. Some failed to mention Brannan’s name at all, she wrote.
“David Sheppard is home with his family. Thomas Brannan never went home on Nov. 12, 1992,” Flowers wrote. “Remember that, before anything else.”