LINDEN, Texas -- An Atlanta man will spend the rest of his life in prison for killing two people in 2018 and using tires to incinerate the bodies in a fire pit.
Kevin Shepard was found guilty of capital murder Thursday in the deaths of Donnie Combs and Cynthia Arnold. Fifth District Judge Bill Miller sentenced Shepard to an automatic life sentence without the possibility of parole.
During the three-day trial, the jury heard from family members, deputies from the Cass County and Marion County sheriff's offices, the FBI's Evidence Recovery Team, forensic scientists and an eyewitness to the murders.
The evidence showed that the last time either family had heard from Combs or Arnold was on Sept. 25, 2018. A missing person's report was filed with the Cass County Sheriff's Office.
Marion County Investigator Alisha Riehl testified that she responded to a burned truck on a county road in Marion County on Sept. 30, 2018. This truck was later identified as belonging to Arnold. Texas Ranger Josh Mason, who was assisting the Cass County Sheriff's Office, stated that Kevin Shepard was always "of interest" in the investigation.
Several leads were followed, but ultimately the case went cold until July 2019, when an eyewitness came forward.
The eyewitness testified on Tuesday that sometime in late September 2018, she was introduced to Shepard by a mutual friend. Shepard took her to a trailer with no electricity and no running water, where they smoked meth, she said under oath.
She was unable to state how long they stayed on the property, but believed it to be about a week.
While there, she met Combs and Arnold on two occasions. The second time, Combs was outside shooting guns with Shepard near a fire in a trash pit. The eyewitness and Arnold were inside the trailer. Arnold decided she was tired and decided to go lay down in her truck.
The eyewitness testified that after she walked outside and sat in a chair in a shop near where the truck was parked, Shepard said "watch this" and shot Arnold in the head. Shepard then stated, "I got something for you too" and shot Combs.
She testified that Combs fled as Shepard chased him. She heard more gunshots and what sounded like someone getting beat with a gun.
When Shepard came back without Combs, he stated, "He wouldn't go down," the witness testified.
She said Shepard then left again and came back dragging a rolled-up carpet that had the boots of a person hanging out the end.
Shepard threw carpet into the fire pit, which the witness described as very large. Shepard then dragged Arnold out of the truck into a wheelbarrow and wheeled the body into the fire pit. He then threw tires and trash in the pit and burned the bodies, the witness testified.
The witness stated that at one point Shepard asked her to get in the pit with him to make sure there were no bones or teeth remaining, but she refused.
At some point, Shepard made her follow him in his car as he drove Arnold's truck to a county road some distance away and set the truck on fire.
A former member of the FBI's Evidence Recovery Team testified that in 2020 they were requested by the Cass County District Attorney's Office to dig and sift the fire pit area. She stated that items resembling bones were collected and sent to the FBI forensic lab in Quantico, Virginia.
A forensic scientist from that team testified that four of the bones were confirmed as human bones and three were consistent with human bones.
The bones had significant fire damage.
"We are extremely grateful to the Cass County Sheriff's Office, Marion County Sheriff's Office, Texas Rangers, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Texas Department of Public Safety for their assistance in this investigation, and to the Texas Attorney General's Office for their assistance in the prosecution," said Cass County District Attorney Courtney Shelton, "But what I am especially proud of is the strength and courage of our eyewitness who finally came forward and was able to give the Arnold and Combs families the closure they deserved."
The case was tried by special prosecutors Geoff Barr and Aurora Perez with the Texas Attorney General's Office. Shepard was represented by Texarkana attorney Butch Dunbar.