Arsonist in Blast that Killed Six KC Firefighters Gets New Hearing

Aug. 26--A man serving a life sentence for his role in the 1988 explosion deaths of six Kansas City firefighters will get a new sentencing hearing, a federal judge has ruled.

U.S. District Judge Fernando Gaitan signed orders Monday setting aside the life sentence given to Bryan E. Sheppard in 1997. Gaitan ordered probation officers to prepare a new sentencing report on Sheppard and told prosecutors and Sheppard's lawyers to write sentencing memos to be submitted to him by Sept. 26.

After that, Gaitan will review the paperwork, confer with attorneys and set a date for Sheppard to be resentenced, according to federal court records.

Sheppard, who was 17 at the time of the explosion, asked for a new sentencing hearing because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that "mandatory life without parole for those under the age of 18 at the time of their crimes violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on 'cruel and unusual punishments.'"

In February, prosecutors agreed that Sheppard was covered by the Supreme Court ruling and deserved a chance to make his case for a reduced sentence before a federal judge.

Firefighters Thomas Fry, Gerald Halloran, Luther Hurd, James Kilventon Jr., Robert D. McKarnin and Michael Oldham died before dawn Nov. 29, 1988, while fighting a fire in a construction trailer parked near the site of a U.S. 71 widening project.

The trailer contained 25,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate mixed with fuel oil. It erupted in a massive explosion that ignited a second explosives trailer. The two blasts were felt for miles.

A federal jury convicted five defendants nearly nine years later. All were sentenced to life in prison. One defendant has since died.

To reach Mark Morris, call 816-234-4310 or send email to mmorris@kcstar.com.

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