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Brothers charged in West Texas migrant killing released on bond

Mike and Mark Sheppard, both charged in the shooting death of a migrant man in Hudspeth County, were released from jail on bond Monday night, the county sheriff’s office said. |  Lea esta nota en español

By Travis Bubenik

The two brothers charged last week in a shooting that killed one person and left another injured near Sierra Blanca were released from the Hudspeth County jail Monday night on bonds of $250,000 each, the county sheriff’s office said.

According to authorities, Mike and Mark Sheppard - both facing manslaughter charges in the Sept. 27 shooting - encountered a group of 13 migrants off a rural road south of Interstate 10 around 7 p.m., stopped their truck and then began shooting at the group.

The migrants, who had stopped for a drink of water at a reservoir, told investigators that one of the men yelled obscenities at them and revved the truck’s engine before opening fire, according to an arrest affidavit. The brothers, meanwhile, later suggested to authorities that they were in the area hunting, though investigators said one of the brothers changed details of his story multiple times.

Authorities said a man was killed in the shooting and a woman injured after being shot in the stomach. Multiple media outlets have identified the man who died as 22-year-old Jesús Iván Sepúlveda and the injured woman as Berenice Casias Carrillo. 

Their families were in Ciudad Juárez, across the border from El Paso, this week, demanding justice for the shooting.

“I’m asking the authorities, Mexican and American, to work together and put these men in jail,” said Napoleon Sepúlveda, Jesús’ father, in an interview with El Paso Matters. “That’s not going to bring my boy back to life. I know that. But I don’t want other people to suffer the way that we are suffering.”

The Sheppard brothers were transferred from the El Paso County Jail on Monday before bonding out of the jail in Hudspeth County later that night.

According to the El Paso Times, the brothers were rearrested Tuesday and are now facing additional charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

Officials continue to be tight-lipped about the details of the case, citing an ongoing investigation.

The Texas Department of Public Safety, which is leading the investigation, would not answer further questions about the shooting. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said last week that the woman who was injured was in “stable condition” and recovering at an El Paso hospital, but the agency has not commented further.

As the Texas Tribune reported, the agency also suggested additional charges against the brothers could be forthcoming, saying ICE would continue to investigate the case and “will pursue state murder charges and any other potential federal crimes.” U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar has said she’s asking the Justice Department to investigate the shooting as a hate crime.

Thomas Neeley, the top elected official in Hudspeth County, told Marfa Public Radio that Mark Sheppard has been an employee at the county jail, though his employment status remains unclear. The county sheriff’s office refused to comment on whether Sheppard is still employed at the jail.

Until his arrest, Mike Sheppard was the warden at the West Texas Detention Center, a nearby federal prison run by the company LaSalle Corrections which used to house detained migrants for the federal government and has been the subject of serious abuse allegations in recent years.

According to the arrest affidavit in the case, authorities believe Mike Shepard, the former prison warden, was the one who shot the migrants. The killing has prompted outrage among immigrant rights groups, with some tying the shooting to what they’ve described as dangerous anti-immigrant political rhetoric.

The status of the criminal case against the brothers remains unclear. The Hudspeth County Clerk’s office said Monday afternoon it still had not received any documents and had no case against the brothers formally docketed. The El Paso District Attorney's Office, which would prosecute the case, said Wednesday police had not yet presented the office with a case to prosecute.

Arvin West, the Hudspeth County Sheriff, has not returned multiple calls asking for an update on the case, though West initially told KVIA in El Paso he would be “staying away from the investigation.”

Neely, the Hudspeth County Judge, said in an interview he was “shocked” by the shooting.

“The first thing that entered my mind was that anyone who held a position that he did should’ve known better,” he said.

Neely said he didn’t know Mike Sheppard well, though he had attended multiple meetings with him about a local water shortage that has at times affected the prison.

“I think nearly anyone who knew the man is really just astonished that he used such poor judgment,” he said.

Neely said he had not received any new details about the investigation beyond what has been already reported in the news.

Bill Addington - a Sierra Blanca resident, activist and critic of the local prison - said he didn’t know either of the brothers very well, but he did interact with Mark Sheppard on a regular basis at a weekly food bank event.

Addington said Sheppard was known to get mad at people for speaking Spanish around him, and that he’d recently seen that happen at the food bank.

“We’re talking Spanish, and he yells at us not to speak Spanish in front of him, like we’re talking about him or something,” he said. “I said we’re not talking about you man, and we can talk Spanish all we damn well want.”

Neely said he had never “heard or had any indication that they were terribly racist type people or anything like that.”

Addington said he was outraged by the shooting.

“This is pissing me off,” he said. “This is wrong, wrong, wrong.”

This story has been updated.

Correction: an earlier version of this story said the shooting happened just after 9 p.m. In fact, according to an arrest affidavit in the case, the shooting occurred around 7 p.m. Just after 9 p.m. was the time that U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported receiving a call for assistance related to the shooting from the Hudspeth County Sheriff's Office.

Travis Bubenik is All Things Considered Host and Big Bend Reporter at Marfa Public Radio.