Reasonable doubt?

Dallas lawyer Catherine Shelton on her troubled pastand the Rowlett murder she says she didn't commit

Catherine Shelton puts down her glass of Beaujolais and walks quickly out of her bedroom, searching through her pitch-dark house for a gun. "Where is that damn gun?" she says, walking back into the room and rifling through two sets of dresser drawers. She's looking for a handgun loaded with armor-piercing bullets. Her husband, Clint Shelton, could tell her where the gun is. It's his, one he keeps in the house with myriad other firearms: three 12-gauge shotguns, two shotguns used to shoot clay targets, a Glock, an AK-47, revolvers, and others. Clint Shelton can't help his wife, though, because he's in Dallas County jail, kept there by a $1 million bail, placed there because police suspect he killed 30-year-old Michael Hierro and wounded his wife, Marisa Hierro, in their Rowlett driveway in December.

"I can't find it," Catherine Shelton says, sitting back down in the wingback chair next to her bed, shaking her head. She wants to show the type of gun and ammo Clint would use if he wanted to kill someone. She can't figure out how anyone would believe that her husband, an avid hunter and expert marksman, would kill someone with a shotgun, something so cumbersome, so common. "He could have killed half the neighborhood if he wanted to," she says. "If Clint were going to kill someone, he would have used hollow-point, armor-piercing explosive ammunition that would have...that there's no way to recover from. He would have destroyed the person's body with it, where he couldn't be reconstructed. You don't take a knife to a gunfight. He would have taken a back-up gun. He has an armory in here."

"Here" is Catherine Shelton's home in Copper Canyon, in rural Denton County. She moved there in August 1999 from her small, elegant home in University Park, hoping to leave behind many unpleasant things: the cramped lots and letterbox bathrooms, the pompous insularity, the gossip. Especially the gossip. More than a decade of whispers and glances, hushed talk of shootings and deaths of boyfriends in Houston. She would leave her unhappy marriage, reacquaint herself with old flames and friends. She envisioned a fresh start, a way to hide from old ghosts.

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Michael Hogue
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Catherine Shelton with her lawyer, Randy Taylor. "Why would she try to kill someone knowing the finger would be pointed at her?" asks a defense team investigator. "And then...not even finish the job?"
Kester Gilhome
Catherine Shelton with her lawyer, Randy Taylor. "Why would she try to kill someone knowing the finger would be pointed at her?" asks a defense team investigator. "And then...not even finish the job?"

But her troubles did not disappear; they intensified. A construction worker at her house accidentally hanged himself in an autoerotic incident last June. Ex-clients made claims of professional misconduct against her. The IRS began investigating her and put a lien on her property. Her purported paramour brought stalking and trespassing charges against her. Finally, Marisa Hierro, a former Shelton employee, identified Catherine and Clint Shelton as her attackers.

With her husband's arrest and with much of the Dallas legal community still buzzing about the possibility of her incarceration, Catherine Shelton agreed to talk to the Dallas Observer because she says she is tired of running.

"I was not there that night, the night of the murder," she says, talking calmly -- a rare calm for Shelton, who is usually hyperactive even when happy. "[But] I think the deck is stacked pretty hard against me, and I think I stand a good chance of going to prison. I could run away." In fact, this is the first weekend she has spent in her house in weeks. She had been staying in hotels throughout East Texas, against the advice of her lawyers, in an effort to avoid being arrested should a warrant be issued. "I don't have a lot of money, but I have enough that I could go disappear. But I won't do that to him [Clint], because he doesn't belong there in jail...Don't let him know I said this, because I can't stand to be around him most of the time, but I do care for the big jackass."

Catherine Shelton's love-hate relationship with her husband, who filed for divorce one month before the December 20 murder of Michael Hierro, is just one of the contradictions that Shelton, her attorneys, and her friends say make this case more complex than has been presented by the media so far. (Including, they're quick to say, the Observer's first article on the case, "One crazy lawyer," which appeared January 13.) They say their investigation has revealed a "web of weirdness."

Yet even as Catherine Shelton, her lawyers, and investigators lay out her side of the story -- an alibi through phone records, Marisa Hierro's alleged vendetta against Shelton, Shelton's alleged affair with the man many suspect with first pointing the finger at her after the murder -- her colleagues, family, and friends must wonder whether they know a killer.

I wonder, because I have known Catherine Shelton for nearly eight years. She has purchased gifts for me and my family, taken us to dinner, had us over for Christmas parties and dinner parties. She would say we are close friends; we are friends, but we saw each other only a few times a year. She is someone who trusted and befriended me after I wrote a 1992 D Magazine story about a client of hers who was falsely accused of killing a baby. For this reason -- and, naturally, a motive of self-interest -- Shelton agreed to talk.

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