Catch Me if You Can

Two people took part in the shotgun murder of Michael Hierro. Prosecutors got one.

Even the members of Clint Shelton's family, some of whom traveled from Colorado and California to attend the trial, talk about Catherine.

"We think Catherine's strange," says one lady relative. The comment prompts a joke from Clint's cousin. "Some people say that about us," he cracks, causing the family to giggle. The laughter reflects optimism: Though they have lost no love over Catherine, they believe Clint is innocent.

"I've known him a long time," says the cousin, Jerry, a garage-door repairman whose name is emblazoned on a patch stitched to the front of his uniform shirt. "I don't think Clint is capable of something like this."

Clint Shelton
Clint Shelton
By the time Clint Shelton took the stand to claim his innocence, prosecutor Toby Shook had him beat by his own lies.
By the time Clint Shelton took the stand to claim his innocence, prosecutor Toby Shook had him beat by his own lies.

The task of proving that he is capable falls on Toby Shook, a veteran prosecutor, assisted in the case by colleague Marc Moffitt. Shook has come well equipped with a strategy that will effectively disarm defense attorney John Young, a Dallas native who now lives in Sweetwater, Texas.

In his opening arguments, Shook coolly lays out his case to the jury. He tells them Clint was Catherine's executioner who carried out an attack on her former employee, Marisa Hierro, because she had made off with a profitable chunk of her law practice.

Shook's words were the first official confirmation of reports that Hierro and Shelton provided legal representation to illegal immigrants and that Marisa continued the business illegally on her own after her falling-out with Catherine in March 1999 ("Victims in the Shadows," February 24).

"I think you'll realize that neither one of these women had any business representing immigrants," Shook says.

Although the details of the business cast a shadow over Marisa's character, she is Shook's main weapon. In fact, it is she alone who says Clint and Catherine together ambushed her. Marisa didn't see their masked faces, Shook tells the jury, but she heard their familiar voices. "Shoot her, shoot her," Catherine ordered Clint after he fatally shot Michael and nearly blew off Marisa's left arm. Lying face down over a manhole, Marisa pretended she was dead as she heard Clint respond, "I did. She's dead."

What Shook doesn't tell the jury is that while Marisa had immediately named Catherine as her attacker, both to a neighbor and to the police officers who arrived at the scene, she didn't identify Clint by name until six days after the attack. That's a point defense attorney Young highlights as he casually leans on the jury box.

"There was never any reason why Clint would want to hurt Marisa Hierro," Young says, putting forth his best imitation of a West Texas accent. "The evidence ain't gonna show that Clint Shelton--Clint Shelton--was mentioned by Marisa Hierro."

As it would turn out, the argument was as convincing as the accent. And even Young would later admit that the first round went to Shook. "That was," Young says, "the best opening statement I've ever seen."

To the vast disappointment of the camera crews planted outside Judge Nelms' court, Shook does not, as anticipated, call Marisa Hierro as his first witness. ("The defense would have expected that," he later says.) Instead, he calls another Hispanic woman to the stand. She is Grace Hierro, Michael's sister, who traveled with her parents from New York to attend the trial.

An air of mourning surrounds Michael's parents, a 50ish couple seated in the front row behind the prosecution table and dressed neatly in black. Every day they observe the proceedings in silence, and each night they return to the solitude of a nearby hotel room.

Grace's role as a witness is to identify her brother, but Shook uses her to introduce a strategically important piece of evidence. It is a photograph of Michael--a close-up of his smiling, mustached face, which Shook promptly tacks to the wall next to the witness stand. Each morning, before the jurors take their seats, Shook will hang the photo in the same place, using it as a subtle reminder of who the victim is.

Shook amplifies his point a short while later, when he goes over the details of Michael's fatal wound with the Dallas County medical examiner who performed his autopsy. Rather than distribute the autopsy photo to the jury by hand, as is often done in murder trials, Shook projects its image onto a big-screen TV. There is a red, fist-sized hole blown into the left side of his neck, and his face is turned to the side, marred by the tiny shotgun pellets embedded in his chin and cheek. Michael's mother bursts into tears and lets her head fall to her lap, her body shaking with grief.

Later, a doctor describes Marisa's wound, which he treated after she was transported by helicopter to Baylor Hospital's emergency room. The blast struck Marisa's left arm just above the elbow, fracturing both arm bones, shredding her muscles and tendons, and cutting off all blood flow to the limb.

"There were thoughts of amputation," the doctor says.

Besides establishing the gruesome nature of the crime, Shook's other task for the day is to lay out the crime scene and begin presenting evidence. He gets straight to the heart of his case, calling Rowlett police officer J.B. Rutherford to the stand.

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