Man who testified against 'sniper' gets lesser prison sentence
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The man whose testimony helped convict sniper Shawn Lester got a positive nod Thursday from a federal judge, who drastically cut his potential sentence on federal gun and drug charges.
Rodney Shaffer Jr. was sentenced to 18 months in prison for illegally possessing firearms while an admitted drug user. He had faced 46-57 months in federal prison on those charges.
Instead, U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver took into consideration what he called Shaffer's "extraordinary service" in helping to convict Lester. Shaffer's cooperation put him and his family at risk, the judge said.
Shaffer has already been in South Central Regional Jail since he was arrested in July 2011, so he will be most likely be released within a few months.
"The court finds that sentence is sufficient in this case," Copenhaver said, and wished him good luck. The judge said Shaffer might be moved to another facility where he could be better protected.
His attorney, Sean Cook, said Shaffer's willingness to tell authorities about Lester's drug activity, gun possession and, most importantly, his involvement in the murder of Jeanie Patton in 2003, means he will live in fear the rest of his life.
Cook said, "Lester is an incessantly violent and remorseless man who committed egregious acts against others. It's obvious Shawn Lester's reach extends beyond his prison cell."
Lester was sentenced a week ago to the maximum 40 years for the murder of Patton. He pleaded guilty just as his trial was to begin in Kanawha Circuit Court.
At that hearing, Assistant Prosecutor Don Morris told Circuit Judge Duke Bloom that least five key witnesses in Lester's case have died, including one whose body was found under a porch in Kentucky.
Assistant federal prosecutor Blaire Malkin also recommended that Shaffer be rewarded for his cooperation in both the Lester case and his federal case. Lester had faced federal the same illegal gun possession charges as Shaffer and also drug distribution charges.
Malkin said, "He provided a great deal of assistance. He was the only eyewitness at the murder of Miss Patton. He would have been the most important witness at the trial. He provided significant information."
She said Lester's conviction probably would not have been possible without Shaffer's testimony, saying he cooperated with "flying colors" in recreating the crime scene.
Prosecutors have said that Shaffer told them he was in the backseat of a green Dodge pickup the night Patton was killed at a Campbells Creek convenience store. He testified he was passed out as he heard gunfire and saw Patton slump to the ground.
In the front seat of the vehicle were his father, Rodney Shaffer Sr. and Shawn Lester.
"He also cooperated in the federal case and confirmed Mr. Lester's role as a drug dealer," Malkin said.
As far as his own federal charges, Shaffer was accused of having 25 firearms in his possession, and at least part of that time he was an admitted abuser of illegal drugs and prescription medications.
"Because of the inestimable value of your testimony, you are entitled to a reduction in sentence," the judge told him.
But Copenhaver also noted Shaffer's own criminal background and called it "extensive."
"I hope somehow you'll be able to conduct your life in a different way than you have up to this point," he told him.
Shaffer will also serve three years on probation after his release.
As he left the courtroom, he waved to his mother, Sandra Shaffer, and she waved back.