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Judge agrees to lower bond amounts for brothers jailed in Hudspeth County migrant killing

Mike and Mark Sheppard were initially arrested and released on bond after the Sept. 27 shooting, but were later rearrested and assigned new bond amounts of $250,000 each. A judge on Thursday agreed to lower that amount, which defense attorneys had called “oppressive.” |  Lea esta nota en español

By Travis Bubenik

A district judge on Thursday agreed to lower the bond amounts for two brothers who remain jailed on charges they shot and killed a migrant man in Far West Texas last month and injured a migrant woman.

Mike and Mark Sheppard were initially arrested and released after posting separate $250,000 bonds in the days after the shooting, but were later rearrested on new charges and assigned new bond amounts of $250,000 each. The brothers have been unable to pay the new amounts, their attorneys said.

At a virtual hearing Thursday, 394th District Judge Roy Ferguson agreed to lower the bonds to $50,000 for Mark Sheppard and $75,000 for Mike Sheppard, whom authorities accuse of being the shooter. 

The brothers sat silently and mostly expressionless for the hearing, appearing separately from the Brewster and Presidio County jails.

Defense attorneys claimed the men were being held under “illegal, oppressive” bond requirements. The brothers turned themselves in on the second charges and therefore did not constitute a flight risk, they argued.

Prosecutor Kevin Marcantel warned against lowering the bond amounts too much, though he did propose a more modest reduction than what the judge ultimately approved.

“What they did is horrible,” he said. “I think they’re a huge danger to the public.”

According to an arrest affidavit in the case, Mark Sheppard told authorities that the brothers were in the area hunting when the shooting happened. At Thursday’s hearing, Marcantel lambasted the suggestion that the shooting was an accident, pointing to details in the affidavit that indicated the migrants were shot at close range.

“I’m not buying this whole mistake thing,” he said. “They both knew those were human beings, they thought that was sport I guess.”

Defense attorneys at the hearing mostly focused on arguing for the lower bond amounts, saying the men collectively had little money to their names to afford the second bond amounts.

Richard Esper, attorney for Mark Sheppard, also said his client’s health had been deteriorating since he suffered a stroke nine months ago.

“He’s showing early signs of dementia,” Sheppard said. “I don’t believe they’re a danger to anyone in the community.”

Esper plainly claimed Mark Sheppard’s innocence, saying the evidence in the case “doesn’t show any intent” on his client’s part “to have been a knowing participant in any crime.”

Mike Sheppard’s attorney didn’t speak as directly to the claims against his client, but maintained that the former federal prison warden would show up for court if released.

“This idea that he’s got a motivation to run is just flat out wrong when they go and turn themselves in when they hear these new charges are being filed,” attorney Brent Mayr told the judge.

It’s unclear if or when the brothers will be able to come up with the money for the lowered bond amounts. Both men’s attorneys did not immediately respond to a request for comment on that question.

The men have yet to be indicted by a grand jury, but the prosecutor’s remarks at the hearing suggested that authorities would seek to undermine the brothers’ hunting defense.

“Why didn’t they go look at what they shot and killed, the javelina or whatever it was?” Marcantel asked. “So I don’t buy the story.”

In a statement on Monday, the El Paso-based legal aid group Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center said eight of the 13 Mexican migrants who were present when the deadly shooting happened had been released from federal custody. Still, the group criticized U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for not releasing the migrants sooner.

“By detaining the victims of this crime in prison-like facilities for almost a month, officials with the Biden administration inflicted further harm on top of the white supremacist violence of the shooters,” Zoe Bowman, an attorney with the group, said. “There is a clear need for the Department of Justice to open a hate crime investigation in this case.”

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