Rhode Islander prisoner in Georgia pleads guilty to 2022 murder

PROVIDENCE — A 37-year-old man captured in Georgia in 2022 after shooting his ex-girlfriend in Providence in a fit of rage is serving a life sentence but still has a chance of parole.

Derek Sheppard declined to comment Tuesday during a hearing that devolved into a sentencing hearing before Judge Richard D. Raspallo of Superior Court in Providence.

“I can’t try to explain this case to you,” Raspallo said, speaking to the adult children of Sheppard’s victim, Bernadette Ortiz. “It’s pointless.”

Sheppard shot the 50-year-old woman six times with a Glock 19 in February 2022 during an argument at Ortiz’s home on Harold Street in Providence.

Prior to that, prosecutors say, Sheppard and Ortiz had been together for ten years and ended their relationship, but continued to fight.

Sheppard attempted to escape but was captured in a Walmart parking lot in Georgia. The police officers who handcuffed him knew he was wanted and in the area based on information provided by an automatic license plate reader system.

‘Heart of gold’

Raspalla condemned Sheppard after hearing about Ortiz’s two children.

They tearfully fought, describing Ortiz as a loving wife and dedicated mother and grandmother with a “heart of gold.”

“This defendant kidnapped not only our mother but also our children’s grandmother,” said India Ortiz, 33, of Pawtucket. She wore a t-shirt that read “Stop Gun Violence”.

Bernadette Ortiz was shot dead by an ex-boyfriend, Derek Sheppard, in 2022.

Jose Ortiz told Raspallo that he spent practically every free minute he had in the presence of his mother.

“My mom was my best friend,” he said.

Sheppard, he said, broke his life. Ortiz expressed doubts that his pain will ever subside.

“Everyone thinks everyone will be fine, but I will never be the same,” he said.

India Ortiz told Raspallo that she hoped he would punish Sheppard by sentenced him to life in prison without parole.

But under the injunction proposed by attorneys and accepted by Raspallo, Sheppard was no longer charged with first-degree murder.

The murder count was downgraded to second-degree murder. The order also dropped two charges: firing a weapon during a violent crime, manslaughter, and simple domestic violence.

Raspallo was touched by the loss of his family. He told them it was not legally possible to give Sheppard a sentence that would ensure he actually spent every remaining minute of his life in prison.

He informed Sheppard that he accepted Sheppard’s guilty pleas to second-degree murder and carrying a pistol without permission.

He sentenced Sheppard to life in prison for murder. After that, Sheppard has to serve a 10-year suspended sentence, with a 10-year suspended sentence hanging over him.

Raspallo called it “a very long sentence”.

“One day,” he said, “his sentence could be over. Maybe not.”