Texas man gets life term for killing doctor

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Associated Press

Posted on September 16, 2013 at 12:34 PM

Updated Monday, Sep 16 at 8:32 PM

LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) — A Texas man who pleaded guilty to killing a doctor in what prosecutors say was a murder-for-hire plot was sentenced Monday to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

David Neal Shepard, 52, was sentenced during a brief hearing in Lubbock, where the slaying happened. He pleaded guilty last month to capital murder in the July 2012 fatal shooting of Dr. Joseph Sonnier III. As part of his plea deal, prosecutors agreed to not seek the death penalty.

Prosecutors say an Amarillo plastic surgeon, Thomas Michael Dixon, offered to pay Shepard three silver bars valued at $3,000 each to kill the 57-year-old Sonnier, who was dating Dixon's ex-girlfriend. They say Shepard broke into Sonnier's home and stabbed and shot the doctor several times with a gun Dixon had given him.

Several of Sonnier's family members addressed Shepard after his sentence was handed down, including Sonnier's sister, Missy Bartlett. She told Shepard that his "selfish and hateful act" had "negatively and permanently" changed the lives of her family and others.

"My mother had to bury her first born because of your actions," she said. "That's something no parent should ever have to do. I do not forgive you and I never will forgive you. You actions were permanent and so is my condemnation."

Shepard's parents, his wife and his children were also at the hearing.

Shepard lowered and shook his head at times during the brief hearing, and when he left the courtroom, it appeared he had been crying.

His public defender, Dennis Reeves, said his client has done what he could to take responsibility. Agreeing to plead guilty and to spend his life in prison is "his only way of saying he's sorry. A small way," Reeves said.

Dixon, 49, is also charged with capital murder in Sonnier's death and remains jailed on $10 million bond. His attorney, Dan Hurley, didn't immediately respond to a phone message left Monday seeking comment.

Lubbock County District Attorney Matt Powell declined to say Monday whether Shepard had agreed to testify against Dixon as part of his plea deal. Under the deal, Powell dropped a second capital murder count against Shepard that alleged that Sonnier was killed during the commission of a second felony.

According to a police affidavit, Sonnier's family members said he had told them that his girlfriend's ex-boyfriend had been causing problems. Shepard's roommate told police that Shepard confessed to the crime after he tried to commit suicide, saying he broke into Sonnier's home through a window.

Sonnier's girlfriend, whose name isn't included in court documents, told a police detective that Dixon "insisted on seeing her, even though she was dating Dr. Sonnier," according to the affidavit. Also, a co-worker of Sonnier told the detective that Sonnier had said his girlfriend's ex-boyfriend "would not leave her alone," the affidavit says.

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