There is one simple reason why a jury was able to convict Clint Shelton of murdering Michael Hierro and wounding his wife, Marisa, with a shotgun in the driveway of their Rowlett home on December 20, 1999. The reason is, Rowlett police officer J.B. Rutherford had to take a pee.
Rutherford was among the battalion of officers who secured the bloody murder scene outside the Hierro home, which is in a subdivision that was still under construction at the time and, thus, dotted with blue "port-a-potties" leased by construction crews.
When nature called that night, Rutherford headed for the port-a-potty on the lot behind the Hierros' house. When Rutherford opened the door, he struck a cop's equivalent of gold: There, floating in a pool of blue-tinted water, were a pair of white latex gloves and a pair of nylon pantyhose. The hose had been converted into a mask and, more important, contained several hairs that DNA testing would later prove to be Shelton's.
Despite 138 pieces of evidence and the appearance of three dozen witnesses during seven days of testimony, the mask alone was the indisputable physical evidence that put Shelton at the scene of the crime. When the jurors filed into Dallas County District Court Judge John Nelms' courtroom on Wednesday, November 15, their eyes cast uniformly down, their verdict was loud and clear: Clint Shelton was guilty of first-degree murder and, in the shooting of Marisa Hierro, guilty of second-degree aggravated assault. The next day, they sentenced him to life in prison.
The verdict should have marked the end of a case that has rocked the Dallas legal community. But to many, including its surviving victim, Marisa Hierro, the verdict only added fuel to a burning question that police and prosecutors have not answered: Will they ever arrest Dallas attorney Catherine Shelton, Clint's estranged wife and Marisa's avowed enemy, whose alleged participation in the murder was a central part of the prosecutor's case against Clint?
"I will have no rest until they arrest Catherine, because she was there that night," Marisa Hierro says. "No rest."
In reaching its verdict, the jury bought the prosecution's theory that Clint and Catherine committed the murder together. As part of the theory, which centers on Marisa's "ear witness" testimony, lead prosecutor Toby Shook argued that Catherine Shelton decided to kill Marisa after she left her law practice in March 1999, taking with her a lucrative, if unethical, business that took advantage of illegal immigrants. While the trial erased all doubt about Clint's role as the shooter, it revealed a major hole in the police investigation: The police have no physical evidence linking Catherine to the case.
Through her attorney, Randy Taylor, Catherine maintains her innocence, pointing to phone records that she says prove she was on the telephone with her late mother at the time of the attack. Catherine's mother, who testified before a Dallas County grand jury before she died, did in fact telephone the Shelton home that night. Still, the records leave open the possibility that someone besides Catherine answered the phone or that the call was forwarded to a cell phone.
Taylor says he doesn't believe that Clint's conviction will have any impact on Catherine when and if she is ever brought to trial. In the meantime, he says, there is only one course of action he can take on behalf of his notorious client.
"I'm gonna hunker down like I'm in a foxhole with a 30 caliber machine gun, and I'm gonna wait," Taylor says. "If the enemy comes, we're gonna have a war."
From the first day of the trial, it is clear that Catherine Shelton is its star attraction, the woman whom Houston police named the "black widow" because she once shot an ex-boyfriend and is still a suspect in the unsolved murder of a second lover ("One Crazy Lawyer," January 13).
To prevent the trial from turning into a media circus, Judge Nelms banned all cameras and recording devices from his seventh-floor courtroom. He even took the rare step of taping paper over the courtroom doors. The move helped ward off camera crews, including one from Court TV, but it didn't stop some courthouse regulars from watching. As far as they were concerned, this wasn't Clint's trial; it was Catherine's.
"I want Catherine to go down," says J.W. Nelson, a retired bailiff who occupied a seat in the back of the courtroom when opening arguments began at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, November 7. Nelson says he was drawn to the trial because he can't forget a run-in he once had with Catherine outside a courtroom. Nelson had been under strict orders not to let anyone in or out of that court, and when he refused to let Catherine back in, he says, she became mad.
"She said, 'I'll scratch your eyes out,'" Nelson recalls. "She should have been arrested a long time ago."
The fact that Catherine has not been arrested generates gossip, perhaps even hope, that she will show up for the trial and heighten the much-anticipated drama. By lunchtime, courtroom bailiff Bobby Moorehead, famous here for his cartoon ties and skull-and-crossbones belt buckle, confirms rumors that Catherine was in the building--she had made an appearance on behalf of a client down on the sixth floor this morning.
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."
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.
A Rowlett cop for two and half years, Rutherford says he arrived as backup to the crime scene. There in the driveway, he saw Michael Hierro's body slouched against the driver's side of Marisa's black 1998 Lexus. The driver's-side door was ajar, its headlights were on, and the radio was still playing.
Along the side of the house, thick drops of blood stained the sidewalk like spilled paint. The trail led to a shotgun that had been sawed off at the stock and barrel. Rutherford went next door to a neighbor's house and interviewed Marisa Hierro, who was sitting on the front porch, her blood forming a pool beside her.
Hierro tells Rutherford who murdered her husband: "Catherine Shelton and a man."
Soon more officers arrived, including the crime scene investigators, who sealed off the area and began collecting evidence. They found the gun, as well as several spent and live shotgun shells, and began dusting for fingerprints. It was about then that a blue port-a-potty caught Rutherford's eye.
Shook presents Rutherford with a photo, and the young officer confirms that it depicts what he saw when he opened the door: A pair of latex gloves and a nylon mask containing what would later prove to be Clint Shelton's hair.
On cross-examination, defense attorney Young asks Rutherford why he visited the port-a-potty. The answer was simple, though it had little to do with police work.
"I needed to use the restroom," Rutherford says.
Detecting Young's attempt to suggest that the crime scene was haphazardly investigated, Shook fires off a final question.
"You didn't sit on that information?"
"No sir," Rutherford says.
As the second day of testimony begins, the Shelton family, which consumes two benches directly behind the jury, chatters excitedly about the presidential cliff-hanger unfolding in the news. The family, Bush voters it appears, has come prepared for a marathon.
"You notice we brought seat cushions?" says one of Clint's uncles.
In the second row, "Jerry" bites into a Butterfinger candy bar, which he fished out of a Ziploc bag stuffed with Rolos and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. The woman to his right extracts needles and knitting yarn from a Mervyn's shopping bag. "It's for a baby's afghan," she whispers.
On the other side of the wall, Shook introduces a piece of evidence that ranks second only to the nylon mask in terms of importance. It is a four-page document that Clint wrote days after the attack; in it he details his whereabouts at the time of the murder and on the following day. Police officers discovered the letter on December 29, 1999, when they executed a search warrant at the Sheltons' Copper Canyon home.
Clint wrote that at 8:15, around the time of the murder, he had returned home and noticed that Catherine was in another room, talking on the telephone.
"I did not think she knew I was there as she did not start griping," Clint wrote, adding that he was "irritated" with her and her attorneys because they had scheduled a meeting to discuss their pending divorce the next day. Clint, who was still living in the house despite the failing marriage, retired to his own room and went to sleep. He woke up at 6:30 the next morning and immediately clashed with Catherine.
"She started nagging me about not having caught Felix," their lost cat, he wrote. The arguing continued as Clint and Catherine drove out to check the trap. "I was angry with her," Clint continued, explaining that Catherine drove off and he walked back to the house alone.
After waiting around the house until about 10 a.m., Clint drove into downtown Dallas alone in his Ford Explorer and ran errands. At 2:45 p.m., he turned up at the law offices of Randy Taylor, Catherine's criminal defense attorney, for the meeting about the divorce. His divorce lawyer, Judith Mercer, was there along with Catherine.
During the meeting, Clint wrote, he and Mercer talked about how they needed to verify Marisa Hierro's current address so she could be served with a subpoena. They needed Marisa to testify on Clint's behalf. At the time, nobody there knew that Michael Hierro was dead or that Marisa had been shot.
This is a story the Sheltons have told before ("A Reasonable Doubt?" March 30). The problem is, Clint wrote down the story not knowing that undercover police officer Mark Hardman had staked out his house hours before he and Catherine woke up that morning.
On the witness stand, Hardman recounts what happened when he arrived at the Shelton home at 4:20 a.m. on December 21, 1999. The first thing he did was recover five bags of garbage from inside a city-issued garbage bin that had been rolled to the front of the Sheltons' house for pickup. Then he waited.
Lights came on inside the house at 6:45 a.m. An hour later, a black Cadillac pulled out of the driveway. There was a man in the passenger seat and "a blond woman in a black fur coat" driving. They were, he says, Catherine and Clint Shelton.
Did they drive out to the trap? Shook asks Hardman. "No."
Did Clint ever walk back to the house? "No."
After stopping at a gas station in nearby Flower Mound, Hardman continues, the Sheltons drove to a downtown Dallas parking lot, where Clint Shelton got out, wished the attendant a "merry Christmas," climbed into a Ford Explorer, and drove off.
"So," Shook concludes, "this business about waiting and going to Dallas in the Ford Explorer didn't happen."
"No," Hardman says.
On January 13, 2000, Hardman and Jimmy Patterson, the Rowlett detective who supervised the Hierro investigation, traveled to a Houston hospital, where they interviewed Catherine's bedridden mother, Margaret Mehaffey. To their surprise, Clint was inside the hospital room.
It was on this day that Clint began to change his story.
Outside of his mother-in-law's presence, Hardman says, Clint told him he wanted to clear a few things up. One was that he did, after all, go to the parking lot in downtown Dallas the morning after the murder and recover his Ford Explorer.
The night before, Clint told Hardman, he parked the car in the lot before going up to Catherine's law office to search for evidence that she was having an affair with Bill Parker, a private investigator who lived near the Sheltons in Copper Canyon. When he came out around 9 p.m., the Explorer wouldn't start. So, Clint said, he walked to the nearby Greyhound bus station and found a cab to take him home.
By the way, Clint added, he had bought a bag of ammunition. An avid hunter, he said he needed to replace his supply because a friend had recently used it up. (In the trash recovered from the Shelton home, cops found an itemized receipt that listed a box of ammunition matching that used to kill Hierro.) At this time, Hardman tells the jury, Clint declined to say who that friend was or whether he ever found any evidence of an affair in Catherine's office.
That version of events didn't last long.
Four weeks later, on February 11, Clint changed his story again, this time during a meeting with cops and prosecutors that he voluntarily attended, accompanied by an attorney who was then representing him. In that meeting, Clint revealed that he had been to the Hierro home several times before the murder. In fact, he said, he had been there on December 19--the night before the murder. At the time, he was wearing gloves and a mask "commando style" while he staked out the home, hoping to catch a glimpse of Marisa so that she could later be served with a subpoena to testify on his behalf in the divorce case.
After waiting about five hours without seeing Marisa, Clint said, he relieved himself inside the port-a-potty then left his gloves and mask in the bowl before driving home.
The story didn't impress the police. They left the meeting and promptly drove to the Hierro home, where they impounded the port-a-potty, which was still covered with fingerprint powder left there by crime scene investigators. On the door were several dates marking the times when the toilet, owned by a company called BFI, had been cleaned. The most relevant date was December 20, 1999, the day of the murder.
First thing Thursday morning, Shook calls Charles Lakes, the man who cleaned the port-a-potty, to the stand. Lakes explains how the vacuum is strong enough to suck up things like rocks and cans. (Shook even produced a video--"I was key grip," he says--that showed the vacuum at work to the jury.) If there was anything in that bowl before he cleaned it that day, Lakes says, it was gone by the time he left.
When the court breaks for lunch, Young puts on a smile and tells a local news crew that Clint is "upbeat" and "encouraged" by what he's seen in the courtroom. "We're about where we expected to be at this point," he tells the camera.
Later, though, Young sits alone in the courtroom and spits Copenhagen tobacco into a Styrofoam cup. The onslaught of evidence, he says, is smothering him. "I'm not sure any of it's related to Clint," he says, "but there's just a ton of it."
Although Catherine Shelton has never set foot in the courtroom, her presence overshadows the trial like a gathering storm cloud.
For months, rumors have floated in courthouse circles that Catherine, a criminal defense attorney who regularly visited Clint in jail, drove off his court-appointed attorney because she wanted to control the direction of Clint's defense. Indeed, in August 2000, Clint's attorney filed a motion to withdraw as his counsel, citing a "conflict regarding trial strategy."
Young, a former prosecutor who didn't take the case until September 20, won't go into any specifics, but he says he accepted the Shelton family's request to represent Clint on one condition. "I took this case with the explicit agreement that I don't lawyer by committee," Young says.
At the moment, Young's challenge is keeping up with Shook's witnesses. Shortly after the jurors return from lunch, Shook delivers Young a surprise blow: He calls to the stand Marisa Hierro and, with her testimony, shifts the focus of the trial back to Catherine.
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."
On December 20, 1999, Marisa says, she and Michael returned home after shopping for office supplies sometime around 8 p.m. When Michael pulled the Lexus into the driveway, they immediately noticed the darkness.
"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.
"I heard a loud blast," she says. "He fell. I ran."
Marisa looked back and saw the shotgun-toting man step over the slumped body of her husband. He was a "stocky man," and he had a mask over his face. It was black, and she could see his eyes. He started walking toward her. Then she heard another voice, a female voice. It was Catherine's voice. She said, "Shoot her, shoot her."
"I knew who it was," Marisa says. "I recognized the voice."
Then she looked back again.
"I saw Catherine Shelton. She had a mask on. I saw her blond hair. Now they're both coming at me."
The gun blasted a second time.
"I saw the fire leaving his gun. I put my hand up--this hand," Marisa says, wiggling her sling. "It threw me. I landed face down. I could taste blood."
Marisa says she played dead and listened as the couple stood above her arguing. The female voice said, "Shoot her again." The male responded, "I did. She's dead."
Shook asks Marisa if she is certain about who the man was.
"Yes. It was Clint Shelton. He called the office. I knew his voice," she says. "He didn't want to shoot again."
After a moment, Marisa says, she heard a loud clap, followed by the sound of retreating footsteps. When silence told her they were gone, she walked over to the house next door and told her neighbor what happened.
"I wanted him to know that Catherine Shelton had been there to shoot us," she says.
Shook approaches the stand.
"I don't want to embarrass you, but can we see?" he says, pointing to her arm. Marisa nods. She starts to loosen her sling, but stops.
"He doesn't have to see this," she says, casting a sideways glance at Clint.
Shook stands in front of Marisa, blocking Clint's view of his witness, as Marisa shows the jurors her arm. The jurors at once lean forward in their chairs. Their faces reveal little, but their eyes are wide open.
After helping Marisa reinsert her arm into the sling, Shook walks calmly back to his table and retrieves his showstopper. It's the autopsy photo.
He hates to do this, he tells Marisa, but the law requires that he ask her to verify that the man in the photo is her husband. With that, he sticks the graphic image under her nose. The effect is perfect: Marisa bursts into tears; Judge Nelms calls for a 10-minute break.
All this has put Young in a very tight spot.
Although he should have been prepared for Marisa at the start of the trial, her appearance today is a surprise. Since Marisa is the only one who can identify Clint as her attacker, Young needs to destroy her credibility as a witness. But how can he do that to a victim who's sitting there with her arm in a sling, crying, without looking like a monster in the eyes of the jury?
During the break, Young asks the judge to call off testimony for the day so Marisa can "compose" her emotions. It's presented as a sweet gesture, but Nelms doesn't buy it. Young has no choice but to attack Marisa's immigration business.
Since the attack Catherine has maintained that Marisa came up with the idea of starting an immigration practice and that, though it brought money into the firm, Marisa ran the business. Indeed, several clients told the Dallas Observer that they paid Marisa thousands of dollars but that she failed to perform any legal work on their behalf--both when she worked with Catherine and after she had created her own business in the West End.
Additionally, some 200 disgruntled clients contacted the Spanish-language news station Univision last year. Although some complained about Catherine, most talked about Marisa, says Gustavo Monsante, a veteran reporter at the station who later testified outside the presence of the jury at Young's request.
After introducing himself to Marisa, Young cuts to the chase, asking her to admit that she is the one who controlled the immigration business.
"I wasn't responsible for it," Marisa says, her eyes suddenly dry.
Didn't you place advertisements?
Didn't you design the ads?
In fact, didn't you charge clients for legal services you couldn't supply?
"I never represented myself as a lawyer, no," Marisa says.
But isn't it true that the State Bar ordered you to cease your business?
Eventually she concedes, "It was confusing, I guess, if we answered any question that could be a legal question."
And there were a ton of folks who thought you owed them money, weren't there?
"I had to close the business," Marisa says. "I got shot."
If Young succeeded in convincing the jury that Marisa Hierro wasn't a credible witness, the victory was short-lived. From the "get-go," Young says, Clint wanted to testify; despite Young's advice, Clint rose to take the stand at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, November 14.
As he sat in his chair, scribbling page after page of tiny notes on a yellow legal pad throughout the trial, Clint slouched and drew in his shoulders. The posture gave him the appearance of a small man. Now, as he rises, Clint reveals his 6-foot frame, which is considerably thinner than that depicted in photos taken before the attack.
There on the stand, as on all previous days of the trial, Clint shows no expression on his 43-year-old, clean-shaven face. His countenance doesn't change when Young asks him if he shot Michael and Marisa Hierro.
"No, I did not," Clint says, turning to face the jury. "I have not killed anyone nor have I tried to kill anyone."
Clint coolly answers all of Young's questions, but his demeanor turns noticeably snide and, at times, argumentative when Shook begins to cross-examine him. Shook's goal is to expose Clint as a liar--and it doesn't take him long. Piece by piece, Shook confronts Clint with his alibis and lets him hang himself with his own words.
A little more than an hour into his testimony, Shook challenges Clint with his story about the masks and gloves he claimed to have tossed into the port-a-potty the night before the murder. Isn't it true, Shook asks, that the items could not have been there if the toilet were cleaned the next day?
"If he cleaned it thoroughly," Clint says, suggesting that Charles Lakes lied about his job.
Or you could have left them there after you killed Michael Hierro and shot Marisa?
"Whatever," Clint responds.
Clint stares at the ground as Shook throws Clint's excuses back in his face. The police lie. Marisa is lying. The port-a-potty guy lied. Shook, scanning the jury, announces that everybody in this case is lying except Clint Shelton. Then he turns around and faces Clint.
"You've had a lot of bad coincidences in this case, haven't you?" Shook says.
Clint lifts his eyes from the ground and stares back at Shook.
"I've had bad coincidences all my life; yes, sir."
The next day, the jurors spend a little more than three hours deliberating. At 4:02 p.m., they reach a decision: Clint Shelton, they agree, is a killer. As the word "guilty" pierces the packed courtroom, Clint shows no reaction at all. Seated directly behind him, Marisa bursts into tears for what she will later say is the last time.
At 3 p.m. on Thursday, November 16, the jurors are once again on the verge of determining Clint Shelton's fate. After hearing an abbreviated round of testimony and deliberating for another three hours, they have finally decided what Clint's punishment should be.
Earlier today, Shook argued that they should give Clint, a "cold-blooded assassin," the maximum punishment and send him to prison for life. But because Clint has no prior criminal record, Young pointed out that he is eligible to receive probation. Clint, he argued, is the kind of guy who deserves a second chance.
"They should have no mercy on him for what he's done to our family," Marisa Hierro says.
For the second day in a row, Marisa joins her in-laws in the front row, but at the moment her mind is not on Clint. Instead, Marisa says she is amazed that Catherine Shelton is still on the loose. Nowadays, Marisa is living under "protection" and waiting for the day that Catherine is behind bars. Her wounded arm free of its sling, Marisa leans over the back of the wooden bench and whispers: "The biggest mistake they made was not killing me that night."
Across the aisle, a handful of young district attorneys talk jovially among themselves. Like the home crowd at a basketball game, they sit behind the prosecutor's table. A few are clutching pens and legal pads, which they use to take notes on Shook's presentation. In this case, Shook has amply shown them why he is one of the district attorney's top dogs. In fact, today Shook is celebrating his 17th anniversary as a prosecutor.
When the jurors pass their verdict to the judge, they give Shook the only present he wanted: a life sentence.
In contrast to her reaction to yesterday's verdict, Marisa does not cry. Instead, she rises from the crowd and makes her way across the courtroom. She is not going to pass up this opportunity to make a victim's impact statement.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Marisa gazes down at Clint from the stand. He casts his eyes away.
"I guess I should not be surprised that Clint is not looking this way," she begins. "He shows no remorse--just as he did that night."
Marisa calls Clint a monster. She tells him she will be at his parole hearing 30 years from now to argue that he should not be set free. Finally, she tells him something that some people have been speculating about for months.
"Catherine," she says, "has thrown you away."