Woman pleads guilty in masterminding plot to kill Benton man over custody dispute

Crime

BENTON, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – The Shreveport woman accused of masterminding the fatal shooting of her child’s father over a custody dispute took a plea deal Monday that got her a sentence of 15 years in prison.

Shawna Jones, 32, faced life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder in the slaying of 31-year-old Caleb Pippenger, who was shot to death in the front yard of his Benton home during a family gathering in March of 2019.

Jones did not pull the trigger, but the man who did was prepared to testify against her if she went to trial as part of a plea deal of his own. Justin Sepulvado also faced life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder in the case. Instead, he pleaded guilty to manslaughter in February and agreed to testify against Jones in exchange for a 35-year sentence. Sepulvado had told investigators Jones told him to kill Pippenger and gave him the address.

Rather than risk a life sentence of her own, Jones pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

Caleb and Michelle Pippenger

It was a bittersweet moment for Caleb’s wife, Michelle Pippenger, who called Jones’s 15-year sentence “very disheartening, considering the devastating loss her family has suffered.

“She took a life. She orchestrates it. She didn’t take just my husband; she took my kids’ father; she took her own kid’s father.”  

It was her two sons, then ages 13 and 14, who went outside to check on their stepfather and found him lying on the ground in a pool of blood.   

Michelle said a man, later identified as Sepulvado, had come to the door earlier that evening asking to borrow a tool to repair a flat tire. They were having a family gathering at the time, and she said Caleb told the man he didn’t have the tool. But after the man left to get in his vehicle, Caleb decided to go out and see what he could do to help.

That was when Michelle said Sepulvado got out of his vehicle, directed Pippenger to the other side of the car, and shot him. Pippenger tried to run, but the gunshot had hit a major artery, and he fell. That’s where the boys later found him.  

Although Pippenger and Jones were never married, they had battled for custody of their son after Jones was arrested on drug charges. Sepulvado later admitted that although Jones was not there when Pippenger was fatally wounded, she masterminded the killing in retaliation for his being given sole custody of their son, who was eight at the time.  

Michelle Pippenger says she feels some closure now that the people responsible for killing her husband have been sentenced, but she does not believe Jones’s sentence was harsh enough.

She added that she had hoped Sepulvado would be sentenced to life in prison because “he took a life.”

Jones and Sepulvado were indicted along with Alisa Lochabay in August 2019. Lochabay was in the car with Sepulvdo on the night of the murder and was also initially charged with second-degree murder. She pleaded guilty in September 2020 to accessory after the fact and aggravated assault. She was sentenced to five years, all of which was suspended except for the 18 months she had already served while awaiting trial. As part of the plea deal, she agreed to testify against Sepulvado.

Michelle believes Lochabay “just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.”

During Monday’s proceedings, Pippenger’s parents made victim impact statements. They now have custody of their son’s child and Caleb’s 16-year-old son with Michelle, who, along with his younger brother, found their stepfather’s body that night.

Though it’s been a grueling two and a half years for Michelle as she attended every hearing throughout the ordeal only to have what she believes are light sentences doled out to the two people responsible for killing her husband, she’s ready to begin moving on.

“I hope that my family can find peace now that it’s over, that we can have some closure,” she said.

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