KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A report released by the U.S. Department of Justice after a records request lawsuit indicated that there may be more suspects in the 1988 explosion that killed six Kansas City firefighters than the five individuals who were ultimately convicted.
The lawsuit was brought by Bryan Sheppard, one of those convicted for the explosion who has maintained his innocence.
Over the years, the case against Sheppard and the four others convicted for the explosion has brought scrutiny. Some witnesses alleged that police pressured them to name those convicted in the crime and have recanted their testimony. There was no physical evidence in the case, so the five individuals were convicted on testimony from others. However, other witnesses have maintained their testimony.
The report, based on the DOJ's investigation into the case, appeared to indicate that two security guards could have been implicated in the crime.
However, U.S. Attorney Teresa Moore said that does not exonerate the former five defendants.
"The Department of Justice review of the investigation into the 1988 arson explosion that killed six Kansas City firefighters, and the prosecution of the case by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, confirmed the guilt of the defendants who were convicted by a jury at trial," she said in a statement. "The Department of Justice review found no evidence to cast doubt on the validity of those convictions."
Attorney Cynthia Short represents Brian Sheppard, the youngest of the five convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
"The only thing they really could do is to say that we're going to protect our convictions," Short told KSHB 41 News. "But we also have to recognize that there are these other possible suspects."
The DOJ took three years to investigate the case, according to Moore. Their investigation concluded about 10 years ago, but was not fully released until after the records request by Sheppard.
"We are also grateful to Brian Sheppard for stepping forward and saying 'I'm not going to give up, I'm going to continue to fight until we have all of the truth about what happened that terrible night so many years ago,'" Short said.
Moore addressed the security guards specifically in her statement.
"In response to questions related to two security guards, it is worth noting that the Justice Department report refers to newly developed information in this regard, but stops short of assigning guilt to any additional persons," Moore said. "These matters were fully considered at the time of the trial, the allegations against the security guards were thoroughly investigated, and it was determined that there was insufficient evidence to bring charges. That assessment remains true."
However, the Jackson County Prosecuting Attorney's Office said they were asked to look into two new suspects.
"Our office was asked to review this new evidence for possible charges against two additional suspects. We believe a review is warranted given that no statute of limitations exists for murder," their statement said.
"We know that there's physical evidence that still exists. And so I it will take some time for her to pull together the right people to look at this cold case, and to begin interviewing people again, and we will be patient," Short said
The arson, which was supposedly done in order to claim insurance money, included a car fire and two trailers that exploded. The trailer explosions killed firefighters Thomas Fry, Gerald Halloran, Luther Hurd, James Kilventon Jr., Robert McKarnin and Michael Oldham.
Bryan, Frank and Skip Sheppard, Richard Brown and Darlene Edwards were convicted of setting the fires.
For jurisdictions that utilize the Greater Kansas City Crime Stoppers Tips Hotline, anonymous tips can be made by calling 816-474-TIPS (8477), submitting the tip online or through the free mobile app at P3Tips.com.