Jason Shephard's Dad Takes the Stand
The white-haired father of the Jason Shephard, the young man found dead in Bill Smithson's basement, had just testified about his son's last days and his converstations with him.
He spoke quietly, at times almost inaudibly, about what kind of person Jason was.
His words painted a portrait of a good and dutiful son, athletic, hard-working and trying to do well at his temporary job as an intern with Daktronics Inc.
Prosecutor Tom Lawrie led him through his testimony.
We learned that Kyle Shephard is a parts manager for John Deere and another automotive dealer. That his wife, Carol, and he raised two children, a daughter and Jason in Cavalier, North Dakota, Pop. about 1,500.
He said Jason was a college student in South Dakota who had finished his junior year when he was offered the internship with Daktronics.
He said Jason had traveled to San Antonio and New York before coming to this area for Dakronics. He said his son called him two to three times a day.
Prosecutor Tom Lawrie as him whether his son ever had any issues with drugs growing up.
"No," said his father.
Jason was an athlete, a runner, and neither he nor the friends he hung out with messed around with drugs.
It was on his second trip to Philadelphia in September that Jason lost his life.
His father said he drove a sound system from South Dakota to Pennsylvania for Daktronics for demonstration purposes.
Lawrie drew the witness' attention to Monday September 18, 2006. Kyle Shephard said he talked to his son twice that day.
"He was upset about some things," Shephard said.
The sound system he'd lugged all the way from South Dakota wasn't working. Jason was trying to get it fixed but didn't know how. His father tried to calm him down, reminding him that he's an intern, not a sound engineer and it wasn't his fault the machine didn't work.
That evening father and son spoke again. Jason was calmer, "cool and relaxed."
He told his dad that he was going to get up early the next day, around 5:30 a.m. to beat the traffic in to work.
"He was afraid of letting the company down."
And that was the last time the two every spoke. Jason's father called him Tuesday evening but received no answer.
It was on Wednesday morning he got a call from Jason's manager Kathy Robbins from the home Daktronics office.
She said Jason never made it to work that day. A missing persons report was going to be filed by the company's office manager in Edgmont.
Sometime after that, Shephard said, he got a call from his Philadelphia supervisor. As he talked more about what the supervisor said, Judge Barry Dozor interrupted him and asked who the supervisor was.
"That would be the defendant," Shephard said quietly.
Daktronics arranged for Mr and Mrs. Shephard to be flown to Philadelphia to assist in the search for their son. They arrived at Philly airport around 11 p.m. Wednesday night.
"Did anyone pick you up?"
Again, and for the second time, declining to call Bill Smithson by his name, Shephard said "that was the defendant."
Lawrie asked if there was any conversation with Smithson, during the drive to a Chester County hotel. Shephard only recounted that when asked if he had any idea where Jason might have gone, Smithson said "No."
All the while, Jason Shephard's body at the Smithson's home.
The next day, both Kyle Shephard and his wife distributed flyers that continued a photo of Jason and information that he was missing and a number to call.
By 5 p.m. that afternoon, they received a phone call from the West Whiteland Township police to come to the station. They sat for an hour and a half before more police arrived and they were finally notified.
"They came to us and told us our son was found dead at a home and he was strangled."
Kyle Shephard's voice barely wavered, but juror 4 immediately reached for the box of tissues in front of her on the railing of the jury box.
Behind us, various members of the Shephard family sniffed back tears.
Moments later, during a sidebar, various jurors stood up to stretch their legs, and Carol Shephard wiped the tears from her face.
In the witness box, Kyle Shephard sat, hands folded, staring straight ahead. His testimony contained not one milligram of anger, only sadness.
He was a picture of pure, unmitigated grief.