Joshua Stamm, 37, appeared Monday in Huron County Common Pleas Court, where he pleaded guilty to one count of involuntary manslaughter — a first-degree felony.
In exchange for the guilty plea, prosecutors dropped two murder charges.
Stamm then was sentenced to three years in prison on a joint recommendation of prosecutors and the defense team.
Stamm’s trial would have started today.
Stamm is one of three men indicted by a grand jury in 2017 for their alleged roles in Sheppard’s death.
The other two defendants are Scott D. Hall, of Clyde, and Adam J. White, of Sandusky. They have pleaded not guilty, and theiir cases are pending.
Last month, Steven Bradley and Mark Marein, Stamm’s attorneys, argued in an evidentiary hearing that there was no physical evidence proving Sheppard was murdered by Stamm.
It was claimed that, since no body was found, Sheppard might have been an informant who was placed in the witness protection program.
But special prosecutor Christian Stickan with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, who is prosecuting the case against Stamm, said testimony from law enforcement officers and witnesses is enough.
“I know he was killed behind an address on Fox Lane in Norwalk,” said Tom Brokamp, special agent for the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigations (BCI). “He never missed a Mother’s Day or gone long without calling … A cousin said there was no possible way he could be away from his family this long.”
Evidence of death
The defense called Brokamp to testify. Brokamp took over the investigation in 2009 after Perkins police turned Sheppard’s disappearance over to BCI.
His investigation led him to believe Sheppard was shot and killed in a drug dispute near the border of Huron and Erie Counties after he and Stamm returned from Las Vegas with a large amount of marijuana.
BCI’s investigation led to the indictment of Stamm, Hall and White. Despite extensive searches, Sheppard’s body was never recovered and there was no evidence he ever returned from Las Vegas besides a witness who said he took him to a bus station, but didn’t remember when.
Bradley argued if Sheppard returned after May 12, 2003, there was no way Stamm could have been involved in his death and the prosecution had no evidence to prove he returned before that date.
The prosecution, however, said multiple witnesses have claimed Stamm and the other men indicted had admitted to murdering someone.
“Mr. Stamm confessed to two people and Mr. Hall confessed to three,” Brokamp said. “Mr. Stamm confessed to one person that the first shot went through and broke the sliding glass door. There’s no question (Sheppard is) deceased and no question Mr. Stamm killed him.”
But the defense contended testimonies and alleged confessions made by Stamm couldn’t be used in court until independent evidence was presented to prove Sheppard died from a criminal act.
Common pleas Judge James Conway, however, said there was evidence as indicated by Brokamp, but the defense could supplement their arguments to go over again at a later date.
Warrants and disposal of evidence
The prosecution called Newburgh Heights, Ohio, police Chief John Majoy, a former Huron police sergeant, to testify on search warrants executed at Stamm’s Huron home in 2003.
Majoy spoke to an unnamed man who told him he saw large amounts of marijuana at Stamm’s and that Stamm admitted to killing someone.
“Specifically it was regarding a drug deal where two or more individuals came back from Las Vegas with a large quantity of marijuana,” Majoy said. “(The witness) said Stamm told him he shot and killed an individual … He was very specific about Stamm shooting this person several times and burying him somewhere near a small tree,” Majoy said.
The witnesses statements led to three search warrants at Stamm’s home where police found documents indicating he traveled to Las Vegas and that he owned a gun.
The defense argued since the witness was never identified his credibility couldn’t be independently confirmed by the judge and the warrants. But the prosecution said Majoy’s testimony on the witness’s credibility and the information that was verified through records was enough.
The defense also filed motions about the destruction of evidence including a recorded phone call where Stamm allegedly told a co-defendant to get rid of a gun. Majoy testified he heard the call.
Marein said Majoy’s testimony wasn’t enough and the recording had been destroyed along with the evidence collected from Stamm’s home which has hindered his defense.
The prosecution argued the Huron police didn’t know any charges would be forthcoming and it was a policy to dispose of evidence after Stamm was convicted of having a weapon under disability.
Marein countered the argument by saying if police believed a homicide had taken place, then the evidence should have been preserved. But Majoy said they didn’t know it was connected to Sheppard at the time.
“We had originally thought the victim was someone else and we later found that person was alive,” Majoy said.
Majoy said he didn’t investigate that side of the case and doesn’t know if there was any contact at the time with Perkins police about Sheppard’s disappearance.
Perkins police Chief Robb Parthemore and assistant Chief Vince Donald were subpoenaed to testify for the prosecution but were not called before proceedings were ended for the day.