After bond reductions, brothers charged in Hudspeth County migrant shooting are released from tri-county jails

The reservoir south of Sierra Blanca where the shooting took place. Photo by Debbie Nathan.

TRI-COUNTY — Mike and Mark Sheppard, the Sierra Blanca brothers accused of shooting and killing one migrant and wounding another last month, have once again been released from custody after a district judge agreed to significantly lower their cash bond amounts.

The twins face manslaughter and assault with a deadly weapon charges in Hudspeth County, but were briefly held in tri-county jails until last week. At a joint Zoom hearing on Thursday, Mike Sheppard appeared from Brewster County Jail in Alpine and Mark appeared from Presidio County Jail in neighboring Marfa, sitting silently as their attorneys argued their bond amounts of $250,000 were “illegal” and “oppressive.” The Sheppards had already forked over $250,000 apiece following their initial arrest on manslaughter charges in the days after the shooting; they were jailed again, on the same bond amounts, when hit with the assault charges.

Ultimately, 394th District Judge Roy Ferguson agreed to lower those cash bond amounts to $75,000 for Mike Sheppard, the alleged shooter, and $50,000 for Mark Sheppard. The remaining difference in each bond amount — $175,000 for Mike and $200,000 for Mark — were rendered personal recognizance (PR) bonds, which require no money upfront. 

The brothers now await the outcome of a slow-building criminal case — as of press time, over one month after the shooting, they had not been indicted.

But the hearing provided a first glimpse into the prosecution of the attack that has drawn national scrutiny as a possible hate crime, with immigrant rights advocates and elected officials alike calling on authorities to investigate it as such. An arrest affidavit recounts how, on the evening of September 27, the brothers pulled over near a reservoir south of Sierra Blanca where a group of migrants had stopped to drink, at which point Mike — as Mark told investigators — emerged from the driver’s seat with a shotgun and fired two shots. A male migrant was struck and killed, while a woman who was shot in the stomach survived. Mark professed they believed they had been shooting at javelinas.   

At Thursday’s hearing, prosecutor Kevin Marcantel stated plainly that he wasn’t buying the javelina story. The use of a shotgun indicates they were shooting at close-range, he argued, plus Mark claimed to have been using binoculars to spot their targets.

“I can’t hardly believe these guys didn’t know those were human beings they were shooting at,” said Marcantel. “I’m really surprised it’s not a higher charge than manslaughter, quite frankly.”

While the brothers’ attorneys argued that their clients were not a danger to the public and did not pose a flight risk — offering the testimony of a local bond salesperson and letters submitted by Sierra Blanca residents — Marcantel argued the opposite. He argued forcefully that their actions showed they were a danger, and that once an indictment came down they might be tempted to run. He proposed an evenly split bond at $125,000 cash and $125,000 PR — less lenient than the judge’s eventual ruling.

Character testimonies aside, the attorneys argued that their clients were simply unable to pay the full bond amounts. Brent Mayr, representing Mike Sheppard, said his client had no more than a few thousand dollars left in his bank account, and that his family was selling a property in Florida in order to cover expenses stemming from the case.

“Both Mike Sheppard and Mark Sheppard do not have any significant assets in order to post this now second illegal, oppressive bond that we’re challenging,” said Mayr.

Richard Esper, attorney for Mark Sheppard, said his client had suffered a stroke approximately nine months ago and has since exhibited early signs of dementia, per a recent medical examination in Hudspeth County Jail. “His health is not well,” he said. 

Though Esper questioned why the two sets of charges were not filed simultaneously, precluding the need for two arrests, Marcantel explained that the Texas Ranger filing the charges was waiting to see whether the surviving victim would live or die — if she had died, the Rangers would have filed additional manslaughter charges. Once they determined she was likely to live, they filed the assault charges.

Esper also insisted — as he has in the past — that Mark Sheppard is not guilty of the charges he currently faces, calling the evidence against him “extremely weak, even in the law of parties.”

Marcantel pushed back against that characterization in very strong terms.

“Mark’s the one looking through the binoculars at the alleged javelinas that turned out to be human beings,” he said. “I think he knew darn well they were human beings.”