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Sniper investigation details released

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A Charleston Police detective alleged that one of the three victims in the 2003 sniper-style killings that rocked Kanawha County was randomly selected and not connected to a conspiracy to steal a drug-laden engine block from a Rutledge Road garage, which was a front for a multimillion-dollar, cross-state drug operation.

On Aug. 14, 2003, in order to throw off the police investigation into the deaths of Gary Carrier Jr., and Jeanie Patton, Shawn Thomas Lester shot and killed Okey Meadows Jr., at a Cedar Grove gas station, Charleston Police Lt. Steve Cooper, the lead detective in the Lester investigation, said Wednesday.

"Lester specifically stated, to get away with killing someone after they've [messed] with you, is to kill someone unrelated to your motive in order to throw off the investigation," Cooper said, relaying information that he had received from witnesses.  

On Monday, minutes before his lawyers and prosecutors were set to select a jury for what promised to be a weeks-long trial, Lester pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in connection to the killing of Patton.

As part of the plea, prosecutors agreed to drop all three first-degree murder charges he faced, and Lester was not required to admit that he pulled the trigger. During the plea hearing, prosecutors revealed that two other people, Rodney Preston "Big Rod" Shaffer and his son, Rodney "Little Rod" Shaffer II, were all sitting in the same vehicle when Patton was killed. The elder Shaffer died in 2008. The younger Shaffer is in jail on an unrelated charge.

Investigators have said since Lester was arrested last year that the killings, which were at some point believed to be random, were connected to the theft of an engine block from Lester's garage on Rutledge Road in Campbells Creek. Lester had hidden several pounds of rare pink methamphetamine, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, inside the engine block.

The garage itself was a front for a multimillion-dollar drug ring -- led by a Mexican national named Gilberto "Tito" Lopez and his brother Jaime Lopez -- that spanned from Indiana to Kanawha County, Cooper said.

Carrier and Marty Walker, Jeanie Patton's common law husband, stole the engine block from Lester's garage, Cooper said. Witnesses were prepared to testify that Walker and Carrier had been bragging about "killer meth" they had.

Lester soon discovered that Walker and Carrier stole the meth, Cooper said, which belonged to the Lopez brothers. It's not clear if Patton had a role in the theft, but Lester apparently targeted her to punish Walker, Cooper said.

On Aug. 10, 2003, at about 11 p.m., while he was talking on a pay phone outside of a Charleston Go-Mart at 722 Bigley Ave., Carrier was killed by a bullet from a .22 Magnum caliber Marlin rifle.

Cooper said that it's still unclear how the shooter knew that Carrier was going to be at the Go-Mart at that time.

Four days later, at about 10:15 p.m., Patton, 31, was gunned down as she was pumping gasoline outside a Speedway station on Campbells Creek Drive.

Cooper said that "Little Rod" Shaffer, coming down from a days-long drug binge, was passed out in the back seat of a green Ford Bronco his father owned.  

Lester, with "Big Rod" Shaffer sitting in the passenger seat of the Bronco, parked at a carwash across the street from a mobile home repair service center on Campbells Creek Drive, watching for a "certain individual" to pull into the Go-Mart, according to an interrogation transcript from a jailhouse informant.

"After sitting there awhile they spotted the vehicle," the informant said, "They said they pulled out behind it, followed it up the hollow 'til it pulled into a gas station."

"They said they passed the gas station and turned around and set up a kill zone, is what he told me," the informant continued. "He said that Shawn, the sniper dude as he referred to him, shot two or three times out the back of the truck and hit the ... whoever they were shooting at."

When the shots were fired, "Little Rod" sat up in the back seat and watched Patton fall to the ground, prosecutors said during Lester's plea hearing Monday.

After the shooting, Lester drove the two Shaffers to Charleston Area Medical Center for the birth of the younger Shaffer's son, according to the informant.

Cooper said that there was no way the informant could have known that information unless it came directly from "Little Rod" Shaffer, or one of the three men who were reportedly in the vehicle when Patton was killed.

At about 10:45 p.m., after he had dropped the Shaffers off at the hospital, Lester arrived at girlfriend Heidi Copeland's house, on Charleston's West Side, Cooper said.

They had a confrontation that drew the attention of several neighbors, who chased Lester off at gunpoint when they saw the .22 rifle between the seats of his car, Cooper said.

Investigators believe that Lester switched vehicles, and drove a black Dodge truck to the Go-Mart in Cedar Grove. It's not clear where he left the green Bronco, according to Cooper.

Okey Meadows was shot in the neck a little while after 11:30 p.m. Cooper said a witness reportedly saw the truck pull away.

According to Cooper, Lester had grown up with Meadows. They both went to the same school and rode the same bus. They also shared some mutual acquaintances who were also prepared to testify during Lester's trial, Cooper said. 

But investigators did not find reliable evidence that definitively linked Meadows to the theft of the engine block, indicating that he was the random factor in the shootings. Still, it's not clear whether Lester intended for Meadows to be the random victim, or whether Meadows was simply unlucky enough to show up at the Cedar Grove store on the evening that Lester went on his shooting spree, Cooper said.

The morning after the shootings, an SUV dropped Lester off at the Go-Mart where Patton was killed so he could pick up his own car, a white Jeep Cherokee. A worker at the gas station had noticed the Cherokee sitting in the parking lot, and told Lester that he thought about calling a tow truck.

"You got to have somewhere to park your car when you've been out killing people all night," Lester responded, according to Cooper.

Before he left, Lester told several other witnesses at the gas station that the headlines the next morning would read: "Shawn Lester, gas station sniper," Cooper said.

Reach Zac Taylor at Zachary.Taylor@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5189.

Reach Travis Crum at travis.crum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5163. 


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