‘A carefully planned and brutal murder’: Read judge’s full sentencing remarks

Both Jordan Shepherd and Ashley White were found guilty of the murder of Sam Mechelewski at Cambridg

Both Jordan Shepherd and Ashley White were found guilty of the murder of Sam Mechelewski at Cambridge Crown Court today - Credit: Archant

The judge presiding over the trial of Ashley White and Jordan Shepherd said the pair carried out the murder of Sam Mechelewski in an effort to ‘earn respect’ among fellow criminals.

Jordan Shepherd, 24, (left) and Ashley White, 21, lured Sam Mechelewski, 20, to a secluded wooded ar

Jordan Shepherd, 24, (left) and Ashley White, 21, lured Sam Mechelewski, 20, to a secluded wooded area of Hinchingbrooke Country Park, in Huntingdon, on January 31, 2018. They beat him to death. Today they were jailed for life. Picture: CAMBS POLICE - Credit: Archant

The judge presiding over the trial of Ashley White and Jordan Shepherd said the pair carried out the murder of Sam Mechelewski in an effort to ‘earn respect’ among fellow criminals.

In his sentencing remarks, Judge Julian Goose said White and Shepherd had “carefully planned” the murder in order to remove Sam from the local drugs scene because the 20-year-“couldn’t be relied upon”.

Shepherd, 24, of Mayfly Close, Chatteris, was sentenced to life with a minimum term of 28.5 years while White, 21, of West End, Brampton, was sentenced to life with a minimum term of 29 years.

Mr Justice Goose’s full sentencing remarks are below.

He said:

“Ashley White and Jordan Shepherd, you have both been found guilty by the Jury of the murder of Sam Mechelewski on the January 31, 2018. I am sure that this was a carefully planned and brutal murder, for gain by the two of you. You White are aged 21 and you, Shepherd, are aged 24.

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“The background to this offence lies in drug dealing in the county of Cambridgeshire. Sam Mechelewski, who was aged 20 and whom I shall refer to as the deceased, was a street dealer and also sometimes a wholesaler of cannabis, supplying to people on the streets as well as to other street dealers. He was earning between £1,000 and £2,000 per week, dealing mainly in Cambridge.

“You, White, were a street dealer in cannabis, who had bought cannabis from the deceased to sell on the streets. You were earning a few hundred pounds a week. The deceased earned considerably more money from dealing than you did White.

“You, Shepherd, have been involved in dealing cannabis and other drugs for several years, earning as much as £3,000 per week. You accepted before the jury, that you were consistently earning an average of up to £150,000 per year, supplying drugs to 20 people who worked for you selling drugs to street dealers in Cambridge, Ely, Huntingdon and other towns in this county. In terms of drugs supply you were at a senior level and had control of much of the market. The deceased was one of your dealer customers.

“By January last year he was living with you in a flat you shared with your girlfriend. Occasionally you bought drugs with the deceased and shared the profit. But you were a much bigger drugs dealer than he was.

“Your dealing, White, was on a much smaller scale than the deceased. You bought your drugs from him. That changed, however, in the lead up to this murder, when you became one of Shepherd’s workers and acquired your drugs supply from him.

“Having heard the evidence in this trial over five weeks, I am satisfied that you Shepherd decided that the deceased was no longer useful to you; he had become a problem. He was acting more like a gangster, getting above himself. Also, he was being robbed and assaulted by different people, which undermined him in the eyes of other drug dealers and buyers. He couldn’t be relied upon any more. The fact that he was losing respect amongst drugs criminals, meant that it was affecting your business and your reputation. In your mind he had to be dealt with and in a way that gained you respect.

“In a covert recording of your conversation with your mother on the May 16, 2018, when you were in custody but had not yet been charged with murder, you made some disclosures.

“Firstly, you told her that you had always been involved in knife crime, in that you possessed a number of dangerous knives and, I am certain, carried them to reinforce your authority in the drugs world. Secondly and more chillingly, when you were telling your mother about what had been reported had happened to the deceased, you said ‘They cut his throat with a knife man, but that’s not the normal way, that’s a statement and that’s not your first either, you’ve done this before or you’re absolutely nuts’. I reject your explanation in your evidence, that you were only describing the drugs world generally. What you said to your mother, is both what and why, you did to the deceased, what you did.

“Shepherd, you told White that he would work for you, no longer buying drugs from the deceased, but directly from you. That gave you White, the chance to begin selling greater quantities of cannabis and to start making as much money as the deceased was. That was your ambition White, to become a more important dealer. Working for Shepherd would give that to you. Killing the deceased would bring that success more quickly.

“I am satisfied on all the evidence that you both planned to murder the deceased and that it was to gain from his death. Firstly, you would steal and share his money (about £2,000) and his drugs, which he carried in his backpack. The evidence was that the deceased always carried his backpack within which was his money and drugs. That was seen in the hours leading up to this killing. That bag was removed from the scene, close to which in those woods were found the deceased’s empty wallet and his gas gun, together with a which bore the DNA of both of you. That bag was later removed from your flat Shepherd. The money and drugs were never found. Secondly, you were both to gain in further ways.

“The manner of the killing would gain you both respect, through the fear of others after such a violent killing had been carried out. It made a statement, stabbing him in the neck. Also, you Shepherd were sorting out a problem, the deceased, that was affecting your business. He was losing respect after being robbed and assaulted: that could not continue. By killing him you gained security, preserving your drugs business and reputation. For you White, the deceased’s death cleared the way for you to take over his drugs business in Cambridge, and to be supplied as a trusted worker of Shepherd, with greater amounts of drugs for dealing.

“On January 31, 2018, both of you prepared for the murder. You travelled in a car to buy two cheap sets of identical, black tops and trousers, which you were to wear that night. You made an arrangement to meet the deceased in front of the Halfords store in Huntingdon just after 8.30pm, because you had told him that you were going to steal a crop of cannabis. That was a lie, but you both knew that it would interest the deceased and he would go with you. You both put on the black clothing and black caps. You Shepherd had a black balaclava which you wore. The deceased was told to turn his top inside out, to hide the distinctive markings; he wasn’t given black clothing like you two. Both of you took weapons. One of you took a large knife from the car; it was what is often called a ‘zombie’ knife – an obviously dangerous knife. Both of you took base ball bats, which you hid inside your clothing. All three of you ensured that your mobile phones were switched off, so that you could not be tracked. The deceased was made to believe that this was all preparation for stealing a cannabis crop.

“The three of you then walked, in the dark, to Hinchingbrooke Park in Huntingdon, avoiding as much as possible CCTV cameras. It took over half an hour and was over a distance of 3.5km. Once you reached the park, you continued walking until you were well hidden and there you both attacked the deceased. He was struck with repeated blows to the head with baseball bats and stabbed twice in the neck with the knife. A deep stab wound to the front of the neck caused his death. Then, at a distance from the deceased’s body, you searched through his backpack, stealing approximately £2000, being the proceeds of his drug dealing that day. A witness had seen him to have that much at about 6.45pm that evening. Also, you stole the cannabis he had for his dealing that night.

“You left him in the park, walking back, but by a route that avoided any CCTV cameras. You disposed of the black clothing and the knife, which have never been recovered.

“Later, an hour and a half after you had turned off your phones, you turned them back on again. Between you, you thought that you would not be detected as the killers of the deceased. You Shepherd went home to your flat with your girlfriend and pretended that nothing had happened. The next day you went shopping with your girlfriend, spending over £450 on designer clothes and cosmetics. In the days following, you searched the internet for news about the killing and pretended to show concern that you hadn’t seen the deceased. You asked others to ring around and find out where he might be.

“Within hours of the murder, White, you were with your girlfriend in an hotel where you spent the night. That hotel was within half a mile of the scene of the murder. Although witnesses described you as being short of money in the weeks leading up to the murder, afterwards you spent over £450 in cash paying for the hotel room, prosecco wine and taxis. Also, you bought yourself designer clothes and witnesses saw you with a surprisingly large amount of cash.

“In your initial accounts to witnesses and the police, before your arrest, both of you set up false alibi stories. After you were arrested you lied repeatedly to the police, as you both accepted before the jury, until eventually you separately admitted being with the deceased in Hinchingbrooke Park but blamed the other for the murder.

“I have read a victim personal statement from Grace Groom, the deceased’s mother. It is a statement of a mother who was unaware of how her son made a living, but it movingly describes the loss she and her family have suffered. She says: ‘To say that we miss Sam immensely does not even do it justice. No words can even come close to describing the bleak void his death has created. We continue to try and pull together the edges of the gaping wound that the two responsible for Sam’s death have created…I am a strong woman and my children have witnessed me overcome a number of great obstacles and challenges in life. However, they are now nursing a broken, fragile woman…’”

“I cannot distinguish between you as to who, if at all, is more culpable in carrying out this murder. Whilst I am satisfied that you Shepherd are more likely to have thought through the planning of this offence, you White have previously, even at the age of 16, shown yourself to be capable of serious violence. The difference in your ages is not sufficient to treat you differently. Therefore, I will treat you as equally culpable.

“Your convictions for murder mean that the sentence I must impose on each of you is imprisonment for life. Pursuant to s 269 of the CJA 2003 I must fix the minimum term, being the period of custody that you must serve before you might apply to the Parole Board to be considered for release.

“There are two important findings of fact that I make having heard this trial. Firstly, that both of you took to the scene of the murder weapons, a dangerous knife and baseball bats, which you intended to use and did use to kill. Secondly, as I have already stated, this murder by the both of you was a murder done for gain, namely to steal the deceased’s money and drugs, but also to make a clear statement and gain respect and fear from others in the drugs world, that you meant business by such a violent killing. Also, for you White, you were to gain the deceased’s dealing business and be supplied by Shepherd.

“From these findings, it follows from paragraph 5(2)(c) that the starting point of your respective minimum terms is 30 years.

“There are factors which aggravate the seriousness of this offence, additional to those required in paragraph 5(2)(c). For you both, this was a murder which involved a significant degree of planning. Both of you also disposed of evidence to hide what you had done, the knife and the clothing being most important. In addition, White, you have a previous conviction of s18 Grievous Bodily Harm with intent in 2015, when you were only aged 16 at the time of the offence. You, Shepherd, do not have relevant previous convictions, although you have some drugs convictions and weapons offences, which arose out of the search of your home by the police in the investigation of this murder. You received a sentence of three years imprisonment on June 4, 2018, and are still serving that sentence. I shall make a slight adjustment to your minimum term to reflect that you have been in custody serving that sentence Of course, your sentence for this murder will run concurrently to that sentence. Your attempts to dispose of evidence after the murder than White did, when you removed the deceased’s belongings from your flat and disposing of his mattress, went much further than White did.

“In mitigation, both of you are still young: White you were aged 20 when you committed this offence, and you Shepherd were aged 23. Although I have read an Intermediary Report, dated November 14, 2018, for you White, having seen and heard you in this trial it is clear to me that the report and its recommendations provide little, if any, mitigation for you. Both in giving evidence and listening to the proceedings, I am satisfied that you have had no disadvantage. Both of you have some background as young people of conduct or behaviour issues. However, in respect of each of you this provides little mitigation

“The aggravating factors I have identified require a significant uplift of the starting point, but I have concluded that your most significant mitigation is your respective young age. The minimum term that you will serve in custody before you may apply to the Parole Board to consider your release, is 29 years for you White and 28.5 years for you Shepherd. It does not mean that you will necessarily be released at that point. It will be for the board to make that decision. You will each pay the statutory charge in the appropriate amount within 12 months.”