However, some of Sheppard’s family members say the three-year prison sentence — which will be served at the same time as a sentence for another crime — was too lenient.
Joshua Stamm, 37, of Florida, pleaded guilty Monday in the Huron County Common Pleas Court to an amended count of involuntary manslaughter, a first-degree felony. He had faced two murder charges.
The Ohio Attorney General’s Office prosecuted the case and came to an agreement on recommended sentence with Stamm’s attorneys, Steven Bradley and Mark Marein.
Judge James Conway sentenced Stamm to the recommended sentence of a three-year prison term to be served at the same time as a sentence Stamm currently is serving in a Florida prison. He will return to the Florida prison.
Stamm’s trial was supposed to begin Tuesday, but the prosecution reached an agreement with Stamm’s attorneys, Steven Bradley and Mark Marein.
Stamm pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and provided information on what occurred on the night of Sheppard’s death. In exchange, the other charges were dropped.
Bradley said the plea deal didn’t include an agreement that Stamm would testify against his codefendants, and the prosecution didn’t plan on calling him as a witness.
White and Hall’s jury trials are scheduled for Dec. 11.
Before sentencing began Monday, members of Sheppard’s family gave impact statements to Conway, including an emotional Cliff Hales, Sheppard’s son.
“I was Michael’s son. In the 31 years I’ve been alive, I have never been able to call anyone dad … I’ve missed out on a lot. He never congratulated me on graduating high school … he won’t see me get married … he’ll never meet his grandkids,” Hales said.
But Hales was also hopeful the recommended sentence would do justice.
“I’m a believer in mercy and forgiveness, but also justice,” Hales said. “I hope this sentence strikes a balance.”
Sheppard disappeared in May 2003 just before Mother’s Day. Perkins police originally believed it to be a missing person case.
The case languished for years with no arrests and no closure for the family. In 2009, the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigations took over the investigation led by agent Tom Brokamp.
Brokamp believed Sheppard was killed in a drug dispute in Huron County. They ran extensive searches at the Huron County property where they believe Sheppard was shot and buried, but no body was found.
In May 2017, a grand jury indicted Stamm, Scott Hall, of Clyde and Adam White, 34, of Sandusky, each on two counts of murder.
Christian Stickan, who represented the state, said the plea bargain was made with the blessing of Michael Sheppard Jr.’s family, but his sister and father both believed the sentence was too lenient.
“I feel the legal system has failed my family from the beginning,” said Sheppard’s sister, Julie Crawford. “The impact (of Sheppard’s death) is immeasurable. I didn’t just lose my brother … I lost my best friend.”
Crawford continued to explain through tears that she came to court hoping she’d be able to forgive Stamm, but she couldn’t after hearing him.
“He didn’t seem sincere. He seemed coached,” Crawford said. “It was an insult to have him offer my mother an apology with someone else whispering in his ear.”
Crawford asked Conway to reconsider the sentence the prosecution and defense agreed upon, a sentiment shared by her father Michael Sr.
As Michael Sr. approached the podium to give his statements. His words were choked back by tears. He took a moment to compose himself and then spoke.
“I appreciate we are closing this case, but I don’t think there is anything to ease the pain,” Michael Sr. said. “The punishment doesn’t meet the crime…We agreed to this, but I don’t think we were told the full truth.”
He also asked Conway to consider a heftier sentence or to do something to compel Stamm to help in the investigation further. Crawford and Michael Sr., however, were both thankful of the work Brokamp and other agents placed into the investigation after years feeling ignored.
“Tom Brokamp has dedicated years to try to make up for lack prosecutors and investigators,” Crawford said.
Sheppard’s mother, Rosalie Gottwald, clutched her husband’s hand during the impact statements. She declined to speak when offered the chance by the court.
After hearing the impact statements, Conway decided to go forward with the recommended sentence. He cited the past agreement made and the uphill battle the prosecution would have faced to obtain a guilty verdict in a trial.
“The court process is a search for truth and that can be a painful experience,” Conway said. “My sympathies do go out to the family. I hope this provides some type of closure.”
He commended Sheppard’s family, especially Gottwald, on the strength they displayed through the court process.
Scott and Hall were arrested soon after the May 2017 indictments, but when U.S. Marshals arrested Stamm in Florida they found him in possession of a firearm, which he is unable to own as a convicted felon.
Stamm was sentenced to three years in a Florida prison for carrying a concealed weapon and possessing a weapon under disability. After numerous attempts to prevent extradition, he pleaded not guilty to the charges in April.