By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
The announcement sends the courtroom into a tizzy. Voices whisper, and all heads turn to the door. Marisa, flanked by two assistant district attorneys, walks determinedly into the courtroom. Her left arm is nestled in a bright blue sling. Once on the stand, she leers at Clint, who looks away. As if on cue, she looks over her shoulder at the picture of her smiling husband and her lips begin to quiver. Finally, she dabs an eye with a wad of tissues balled up in her right hand.
Shook quickly moves through her background. Now 33 years old, Marisa was born in Kentucky. She already had a son, J.T., when she met Michael in Fort Hood, Texas, where his military base was located. In 1992 they married and, shortly thereafter, moved to Dallas. Before he died, Michael was a "loader" at a company called American Beverage.
In 1998, Marisa was taking computer classes when she and Michael, the "breadwinner," met Catherine. At the time, Michael was fighting a felony charge for robbery in a case that grew out of a shoplifting incident. It was his first offense.
At that meeting, Marisa says, Catherine promised to get Michael's case dismissed for $40,000. Marisa says that when she returned to the law office the next day with the required $1,000 down payment, she noticed that a colleague of Shelton's was having trouble with his computer. Marisa offered her help, and the gesture prompted Catherine to give her a job as an "office organizer." As part of the arrangement, Catherine said Marisa could work off Michael's legal bill. But that arrangement would soon change.
Catherine "approached me with the idea of expanding their practice into immigration," Marisa says, adding quickly that she does not speak Spanish.
The business, which charged illegal aliens hoping to gain legal residency in the United States between $2,500 and $5,000 apiece, quickly mushroomed. When the clients came in, Marisa says, she helped them fill out a questionnaire before turning them over to Shelton.
While all this was happening, Catherine created a home-construction business and named Marisa as its president in the paperwork.
By then, Catherine had started paying Marisa a salary and the two had become good friends. At the same time, however, Michael grew increasingly unhappy with Catherine because his case seemed to be dragging on, Marisa says. Michael didn't like Catherine, and he wanted Marisa to quit. As long as Michael's case was pending, Marisa says, she couldn't afford to lose the income.
"That's the only reason I stayed," Marisa says. "She [Catherine] kept the case pending to keep me there."
At about this time, Marisa says, she learned that Catherine was secretly "taking cash" from the construction business. In the spring of 1999, after Catherine negotiated a plea agreement that got Michael eight years' probation, Marisa finally told Catherine she wanted to leave.
"She started swearing at me in the office," she says.
Several days later, Marisa says, she and Michael went to Catherine's house determined to confront her about the missing money. When they did, Catherine reacted "violently."
"She started screaming at us," Marisa says. She adds, "We knew how she was."
Marisa says that on March 19, 1999, she slipped into Catherine's office and quietly removed her belongings, including two computers that contained Catherine's client list and her billing records. Some of the information she later turned over to the IRS.
"I was going to start up my own...immigration practice," she says.
Indeed, Marisa duplicated the business in the West End, where she also started publishing a Spanish-language newspaper called Gente 2000, which she used as an advertising vehicle to bring in clients.
Not long after her initial departure, Marisa says, she reluctantly agreed to meet with Catherine. There, she says, Catherine asked her to come back to work for her.
"I said no," Marisa says.
She says she told Catherine that she was going to call Bill Parker, the private investigator with whom Catherine had an affair, and tell him about Catherine's plan to move into his Copper Canyon neighborhood.
"She said I wouldn't live to see Christmas."
"Our Christmas lights were off," Marisa says.
Her eyes well with tears, beginning a ceaseless flow. A member of the Shelton family laughs.
Michael was going to get out of the car and let their three dogs out of the garage, Marisa continues, adding that she was going to scoot behind the wheel and pull the car in behind him. But as soon as Michael opened the door, she says, something went wrong.
"He said, 'Oh, no,'" Marisa says. "He grabbed my arm. He leaned over to tell me to run."
At that point, Marisa looked past her husband and saw the torso of a man standing outside the car. He was dressed in black, and he was wearing white gloves. Marisa got out of the car and started to run along the side of the house, heading for a nearby garbage can with the thought of hiding behind it.