It’s the outcome of a case on appeal called Gibbons v. State and it happened early in Sheppard’s 30-year career as an assistant district attorney for the Augusta Circuit. The successful argument before the Georgia Supreme Court not only upheld a Burke County murder conviction, it overturned 100 years of precedent in Georgia on the admissibility of a witness’ prior inconsistent statements.
“It’s more important to lawyers than the general public,” Sheppard said.
That low-profile victory perfectly matches Sheppard’s style throughout a legal career that ends with his retirement this month.
Under three district attorneys, beginning in 1982, Sheppard has mostly been hunched over law books and computers and out of the courtroom.
As the appellate attorney, it’s his job to make sure the convictions prosecutors earn in superior court are not overturned in the higher courts.
“All lawyers have certain strengths and weaknesses,” Sheppard said. “I’m more at home in the library than the courtroom.”
A self-described introvert and “bookish type of person,” Sheppard, 60, did not attend law school with the intention of becoming a public attorney. But after two years in private practice, he was offered a job in the district attorney’s office by the newly elected Sam Sibley.
“I just needed a job,” he said.
While he mostly stayed out of the spotlight, on occasion Sheppard experienced what he calls “rhubarbs.” In 1987, Sheppard was at the heart of an investigation into allegations that former Columbia County Sheriff Otis Hensley and his chief deputy, Harold “Ace” Elliott, diverted county funds into department bank accounts. One of Sheppard’s legal memos in the case wound up on the front page of The Chronicle.
“It escaped from my office,” Sheppard said, but he denies responsibility.
He plans to open a private practice in January.
“It’s time for a change; that’s what it boils down to,” Sheppard said.
District Attorney Ashley Wright said Sheppard, with his wealth of legal knowledge, is a valuable asset to her office. She said he is efficient, creative and smart.
“He has a level of credibility most lawyers never see,” Wright said.