One crazy lawyer
The first hint Michael and Marisa Hierro had that something was amiss when they pulled into the driveway of their Rowlett home on the night of December 20 was their Christmas lights. They had been on when the couple left earlier that day, but now they were off.
The Hierros had been out shopping for office supplies before they returned home around 8 p.m. Leaving the engine of their Lexus running, Michael Hierro got out of the car to move the couple's dogs from the garage into the house.
As her husband stepped out of the car in the darkness, Marisa heard him say, "Oh, no."
In the driveway stood a masked man armed with a sawed-off 12-gauge shotgun. Hierro had just enough time to grab the man and tell his wife to run before the gunman fired, mortally wounding Hierro. Marisa climbed from the car and dashed toward the street, falling as she ran. The man fired again, blowing off part of her right arm.
As Marisa lay on the ground, blood seeping from her limb, the masked man walked behind her and stuck the barrel of his gun against the back of her head. Then a female voice said, "Shoot her. Shoot her."
Marisa caught a glimpse of the woman. She was wearing what looked like a ski mask that had two eyeholes but no hole cut for the mouth. Blond hair poked from beneath the mask, and Marisa noticed that the woman's fingernails were manicured.
"Don't be a pussy," the woman told her accomplice. "Finish it. Finish it. Give me the gun. I'll shoot her."
"I shot her," the man replied. "I did it."
Marisa lay still until she heard the sound of her assailants' retreating footsteps fade. Then she stumbled to a neighbor's house. Soon, an ambulance arrived and rushed Marisa and Michael to Baylor Medical Center, where Michael died.
Marisa recounted the shooting to Rowlett police officer Jimmy Patterson from her hospital bed. She told him the female voice belonged to the woman who in March had warned Marisa that she would not live to see Christmas. The voice, Marisa said, belonged to her former boss, 51-year-old Dallas lawyer Catherine Shelton. The other voice sounded like Shelton's husband, Clint Shelton, Hierro told police.
Police moved quickly to begin collecting evidence against the couple they named as suspects in Michael Hierro's murder. Searches of the Sheltons' trash and home uncovered a slew of evidence, among it a pair of purple Hanes men's briefs. According to a police affidavit filed with the court to obtain a search warrant, the underwear had "two holes cut or torn from the seat...that form eyeholes if worn as a mask, but no hole for a mouth." Police also found a receipt for a box of Remington 12-gauge shotgun shells purchased two weeks before the ambush, and collected various saws, boots, clothing, and more shotgun rounds. They took hair samples from Clint Shelton to compare with those found on a pair of pantyhose at the murder scene.
Sources familiar with Catherine Shelton and Marisa Hierro suggest that at the heart of the murder lies a business dispute between the two women. That dispute apparently spawned investigations into questionable legal practices by Shelton and her former employee.
Whether all this is enough to charge either of the Sheltons with Hierro's murder is up to a Dallas County grand jury, which at press time was reviewing the case, according to Dallas County Assistant District Attorney Toby Shook.
This much is certain, however: People who know Catherine Shelton are not particularly surprised that she is a murder suspect. Several attorneys who have crossed Shelton's path say she possesses a mean streak and a violent temper. She's a dangerous woman whom you don't want to cross, they say. Her reputation isn't helped by the fact that several of Shelton's associates have turned up dead, or by her criminal conviction for shooting a former lover in Houston.
Yet few of the people willing to talk about Shelton will do so openly, for one simple reason: Catherine Shelton scares the hell out of them.
One person who is especially afraid of Shelton these days is Marisa Hierro's attorney, John Key III, who stayed with his client at the hospital the night of the shooting. When he went home early the next morning, Key says, he was so afraid that Shelton or her friend might come looking for him that he slept behind his front door, using his body as a barricade.
While Hierro is recovering from her wounds at an undisclosed location, Key says he still isn't sleeping any better at night.
Many unanswered questions remain about last month's bloody ambush of the Hierros. Yet the Rowlett attack just might be the final chapter in a bizarre tale of blood, sex, and deceit that began in Houston 20 years ago and features a gunned-down former reporter for the Houston Post, a handful of dead bodies, and a woman whose strange, violent past once earned her the nickname "the black widow."
The mass of evidence Rowlett police collected from Catherine and Clinton Shelton's home doesn't impress her criminal-defense lawyer, Randy Taylor. Taylor spoke to the Dallas Observer by telephone from a bed at Baylor hospital, where he's being treated for gallstones.
Pausing occasionally to adjust his intravenous line, Taylor dismissed the allegations against Shelton and her husband as nonsense.
Based on his description of the police search of the couple's home on December 29, however, Rowlett police clearly think otherwise.
"The Rowlett SWAT team, in full battle gear...with gas masks on, battered open her front door," Taylor says. "She was there at home at 10 o'clock in the morning in her underwear. They did let her put on some clothes before they run her out of her house and searched the house for 10 hours. I guess that makes her a suspect."
Regardless, he says, "they got nothing more to tie her as a suspect to this Marisa Hierro shooting and Mr. Hierro's killing than they do me."
Taylor believes he can establish that the shooting occurred sometime between 8 p.m. and 8:25 p.m. At the time, he says, Catherine Shelton was speaking to her mother on the telephone.
What about the purple underwear mask found in the Sheltons' trash?
"Anybody in the world, including me and you, could have put that stuff there. That wasn't on her property. That wasn't under her lock and key." (The police affidavit states that among the trash recovered with the underwear, officers found mail addressed to the Sheltons.)
Taylor also says that it doesn't make sense that Clint Shelton, an expert in guns and former Tarrant County sheriff's deputy, would take a single-shot shotgun to shoot two people. "He'd have to be a damn fool," he says. He also doesn't think Clint would miss if he were to try to kill someone, since he once placed second in a pistol contest and was an avid hunter.
"It's completely inconceivable that somebody who is a certified peace officer...would go kill somebody with a single-shot shotgun and not at least have a backup gun -- a .45 or a Beretta or something or other stuck in your belt where if you didn't get it done the first time, you'd get it done the second time. He's a crack shot, and he had absolutely no reason on God's green earth to want to hurt Mr. Hierro."
As convinced as Taylor is that his client is innocent, Hierro's attorney is equally sure that Catherine Shelton took part in the ambush. Key believes Shelton wanted Marisa Hierro dead simply because she had quit her job as a paralegal at Shelton's downtown Dallas law practice in March 1999.
"I think the fact that Marisa left her office was the motive, period," Key says. "Have you ever dealt with a crazy person? You can't expect this to make sense. It doesn't make any sense. She [Shelton] is just a fucking nut."
There is no question that Shelton has a criminal history and is still prone to make threats. In Denton County, Shelton currently faces a misdemeanor charge for stalking her former business associate, noted polygraph examiner William Parker, who obtained a restraining order that prohibited Shelton from coming within 500 feet of him.
Yet sources, speaking on condition that they not be identified, tell the Observer that Hierro's reasons for leaving Shelton's law practice were far more complicated than Hierro's realization that Shelton had a criminal background. Specifically, the Observer has learned that the Dallas police have investigated allegations that Hierro and Shelton may have been running a scam that involved unlawfully soliciting business from illegal immigrants and taking their money without providing the promised services.
Shelton certainly was aware of the allegations involving her law practice. Weeks before the December 20 ambush, Ron Goranson, a Dallas lawyer who has represented Shelton in State Bar grievance proceedings, called the Observer at Shelton's request to pitch an unusual story about his client.
Goranson said Shelton wanted to tell an important story about illegal solicitation, an immigration scam, a former employee with a vendetta, and a crooked county constable. In another conversation, Goranson told the Observer that the former employee and alleged immigration scammer was Marisa Hierro. Goranson said Hierro was a disgruntled employee who had left Shelton's office and set up her own immigration-services business.
Goranson later backed out of the interview and today refuses to speak on the record about his former client. Taylor, her current lawyer, says Shelton was helping police investigate complaints that Hierro was ripping off immigrant clients.
Shelton, however, has been the subject of recent civil allegations that she had taken money from her clients but failed to adequately represent them. As part of a 1998 lawsuit filed in Dallas County by the State Bar of Texas, Shelton's law license was suspended for six months beginning January 1, 1999. As part of an agreed judgment, Shelton was put on probation and allowed to continue practicing law.
When Marisa Hierro, 33, went to work for Shelton as a paralegal in August 1998, she had no idea whom she was working for, says Key, who describes Hierro as an "Army brat" who has spent most of her adult life in Dallas.
During an interview last week, Key initially said Hierro had quit her job with Shelton simply because she had learned about Shelton's criminal history. When pressed to explain the details behind the departure, however, Key confirmed that a dispute had arisen in February between Hierro and Shelton over complaints lodged by some of Shelton's clients. The clients, Key says, had gone to reporters, claiming that Hierro had stolen money that was intended to pay for legal representation from Shelton.
"I represented Ms. Hierro with her dispute with Catherine," Key says. "Initially, one of the Hispanic television stations called her [Marisa] and told her, 'Look, we've gotten complaints that you're taking clients' money and not doing anything for [them].'"
The problems began once the clients were in the door and their retainer fees paid, Key says. Shelton would "probably tell these clients that Marisa had taken the money," he says, though Hierro "was just an employee.
"The clients weren't getting representation. That was the problem," Key says, adding that the clients' checks "weren't made payable to Marisa. They were made payable to Catherine and deposited in her bank account."
The dispute prompted Shelton to begin calling Key, who says Shelton was initially polite but soon turned angry.
"When I began to question [Shelton] about the factual inconsistencies about what she was saying, she got mad...Marisa was afraid of Catherine," says Key, who declined to describe the calls further.
Hierro and Shelton's relationship grew increasingly worse in the months after Hierro quit. Evidently, the tensions were coming to a head in mid-October, when an anonymous person began distributing packets of information about Shelton's background to Dallas-area lawyers and judges, Shelton's clients, and the media.
In one version of the packet, a picture of Shelton appears with a "warning" that "the information in this letter will probably affect your criminal case!" The letter, which is accompanied by a lengthy 1981 article about Shelton's legal troubles in Houston, encourages lawyers who have been "abused" by Shelton to contact the State Bar of Texas. "After you read the story about her, you'll see that she couldn't even keep herself out of trouble," the letter states. "Do you really want her handling your case?"
Although it is uncertain who distributed the packets, in mid-November Goranson told the Observer that Shelton believed it was Marisa Hierro. Goranson said Hierro, together with an unknown attorney, had left Shelton and took some of her best clients on the way out the door.
At the same time, Dallas police allegedly were investigating Shelton for barratry and other possible offenses, according to a source involved in that probe. Shelton believed Marisa Hierro had prompted the investigation, the source said.
Margaret Donnelly, a respected Dallas lawyer who is certified in immigration and nationality law, says that in October 1999 -- some seven months after Hierro left Shelton's office -- an employee in Donnelly's office consulted with an illegal immigrant and his son, who had hired a company called "Marisa Hierro Immigration Services" to handle a labor certification matter.
One of the men gave Donnelly's office a copy of a $4,500 invoice dated July 1 that is printed on Marisa Hierro Immigration Services letterhead.
The man also gave Donnelly's office a copy of an August 26 letter that Hierro signed. The letter, which was generically addressed to "immigration and naturalization officers," states that Hierro was helping the man obtain "Employment Authorization and his Residency Status."
The letter is similar to those that immigration lawyers give to their illegal immigrant clients in case the Immigration and Naturalization Service detains them.
After investigating the men's cases, Donnelly determined that the man and his son, whom she describes as "highly skilled house painters," were not eligible for a labor certification, a complicated process in which an employer sponsors an alien worker for permanent U.S. residency. Of the dozen or so Dallas-area attorneys certified by the state in immigration and nationality law, Donnelly reckons that only half of these would even take such a case.
"I was flabbergasted that [Hierro] was taking this case," Donnelly says. "She was a beginner, and she was taking this very difficult case. Only someone with expertise in immigration law could handle that."
Donnelly says the men, whom she declined to identify, had always been under the impression that Hierro was an attorney. They sought Donnelly's advice when Hierro didn't make good on her promise to find the men temporary work authorization while she worked on their cases. Donnelly says her office recommended that the men stop paying Hierro, but unfortunately they had already given her $1,000.
Whoever distributed the packets about Catherine Shelton's past had good reason to wish to stay anonymous. The packets were guaranteed to anger her, and when Shelton gets angry, people sometimes get hurt.
Former Houston Post reporter Gary Taylor found that out in 1980, when he attempted to end a love affair with Shelton, then known by her maiden name, Catherine Mehaffey. Shelton shot Taylor twice. At the time, Shelton was also a suspect in the murder of another ex-lover, Argentinean anesthesiologist George Tedesco, whose case remains unsolved.
Jim Skelton, who represented Shelton in her trial for the attempted murder of Taylor, remembers one of her favorite stories about her formative years. She was barely a toddler when the local priest came to visit her family. Shelton didn't want to see the priest.
"So she starts shouting doo-doo and pee-pee at him -- the only nasty words she knew at that stage in life," Skelton says. "She was a real wampus kitty from the start. Catherine's always been that way."
Shelton was born in the Philadelphia area and moved with her family to Houston at age 4. Shelton gained a youthful reputation as a rough-and-tumble tomboy, never afraid to take on other girls -- or boys -- in schoolyard fights. She was schooled at the private Catholic Saint Agnes Academy. After graduation, she enrolled at the University of Texas in Austin.
The strawberry blonde, who had the attractive, impish features of a Sissy Spacek, was a popular young woman, known for her quick wit and sometimes-abrasive comments.
"She was the classic narcissistic personality," Skelton says. "I've always said she had a misdemeanor brain and a felony mouth. She'd go to a Whataburger and demand to have what McDonald's was serving. Everything with her is eventually confrontational."
Shelton said she was staying at the San Antonio home of her college roommate's parents when she first saw her future husband, Matt Quinlan. They were married in 1969 in the Los Angeles area.
Quinlan was a Navy lieutenant, and Shelton went with him to his assignment in Japan. In a deposition in a later court case, she characterized him as "more of a friend than a husband."
That fairly benign description of the marriage did not match exactly with later testimony in the Gary Taylor trial. Shelton admitted that once during the marriage she was holding Quinlan's handgun in their home when the pistol discharged. A Quinlan relative told investigators that she shot at her then-husband.
"You fired that bullet to get his attention, is that correct?" a prosecutor asked her during the trial.
"It got both of our attention," Shelton replied.
She divorced and was back in Houston in 1970, this time going to the University of Houston, graduating from UH law school in 1977. She says she worked many jobs -- as a helper at her parents' day-care center, law clerk, Red Cross employee, intern at the District Attorney's Office, and assistant legal advisor at UH.
She said she handled one case of a woman who worked in a medical office. The woman told Shelton about a young anesthesiologist, George Tedesco, who practiced at Saint Joseph's Hospital. The other woman said Shelton remarked at what a good catch the rising doctor would be.
Shelton dated many men, but soon entered an exclusive relationship with Tedesco. By late 1976, she was sharing his southwest Houston townhouse.
Although Shelton would eventually claim that they were common-law husband and wife, Tedesco's friends said there was never any marriage or pretense of marriage.
Shelton described Tedesco, who stood 5-foot-7, as a domineering brute. He limited her phone calls to one minute and seemed obsessed about her whereabouts. She opened a small law office in the Montrose area of Houston, but blamed Tedesco for ruining her fledgling law practice. "He would be there. He threw scenes. He acted like a fool. He almost single-handedly wrecked my practice in my first months of practice," Shelton said in a deposition.
By early 1978, she regularly accused him of beating her. On January 23 of that year, Shelton filed for divorce from what she said was a common-law marriage. Afterward, friends of Tedesco's said he was hounded by calls from Shelton, who demanded money. He returned home one day to find his pre-Columbian art collection missing, along with guns and other items.
Tedesco began recording the calls from Shelton. When she talked to him about possibly getting some of the stolen items back to him, Tedesco and his attorney went to police to unsuccessfully attempt to get her charged with burglary.
In a deposition, Shelton said she simply used the key she had gotten from Tedesco and went in and gathered up the artwork as her way of taking what she felt was her portion of the community property.
She later called Tedesco and arranged to meet him in a shopping-center parking lot to talk about money. Tedesco told others she wanted him to make the exchange of the property. She said that they moved their cars to a nearby field and that she had to spray him with a Mace-like substance. He grabbed it and sprayed her, and they wrestled in the mud until two bystanders came up, she said. She accused Tedesco of getting a gun and threatening all of them before leaving.
"You usually think you are going to be real brave when somebody does that to you, but you don't," Shelton said in her deposition. "You beg for mercy. You beg for your life."
George Tedesco would face those same prospects, and soon.
On Monday, January 15, 1979, Tedesco was supposed to be in family court for a hearing on the common-law marriage and divorce case filed by Shelton. He didn't show up, just as he had failed to appear to assist in a scheduled surgery the previous Friday.
The following Monday, police checked his home and found blood seeping from under the garage door. Tedesco had been savagely beaten, his face partially crushed. Blood was spattered high on one wall of the garage.
Nothing was missing from the townhouse. His wallet, in a leather pouch nearby, still contained $49, and there was a shattered tape recorder on the ground. Nearby was a large bloodstained iron bar, partly wrapped in a towel.
That ended the family court battle between Shelton and Tedesco -- it moved to the arena of probate court. Shelton filed a suit seeking Tedesco's $200,000 estate, a claim challenged by his family from Argentina.
Homicide detectives questioned her about the killing, but came up with no leads. "I couldn't tell them much," Shelton said in a deposition. "I was stunned."
Strangely, on the night after the discovery of Tedesco's body, a neighbor saw Shelton and her attorney Lloyd Oliver at the house, which still had the pools of blood from the killing. Shelton had called a locksmith to open the house. She said she took various financial records and letters involving his business and other personal matters.
The two returned three days later, this time with a locksmith who could open Tedesco's secret safe in a bathroom closet. This time, the door locks were sealed with glue, and a sign on the door said, "Sealed by Order of the Court."
"We did not know what court, the kangaroo court?" Shelton testified in a deposition. "We didn't know, so we went around to the back." She claimed each time that someone in the homicide division had told her it was all right to enter the premises.
They opened the safe and used $140 in cash they found to pay the locksmith. Inside the safe, there was a purse with tape recordings, which Shelton said were later lost. Also hauled out to their waiting van was a television and stereo, lamp, antique sword, pieces of the pre-Columbian pottery, checks, tapes, and various bills and receipts.
Shelton quickly sold most of the items. She took the sword to a friend, Steve Melinder, a deputy sheriff she knew from her work in the courts. He said he sold it for her at a gun show for $175.
After that, he said in a deposition, she came by again -- this time wanting $300 for an abortion. She told Melinder he was the father of her unborn child and showed him a medical memo saying she was pregnant.
"Among many things, she stated, 'Remember George? Remember what happened to him? Remember your wife and son,'" Melinder replied.
Shelton said she raised a little less than $1,000 in her informal liquidation of what she called her part of the inheritance.
Shelton got nothing more from the Tedesco estate. A jury in October 1979 ruled against her claims that they lived together as man and wife.
One of those who had seen her weeping in the probate courtroom was Houston Post criminal courts reporter Gary Taylor, who had met Shelton at a party and was clearly intrigued by the lawyer who had acquired the nickname in some quarters as a "black widow."
Taylor struck up a conversation: "So this is the famous Catherine [Shelton]?" Taylor was going through a difficult divorce at the time, fighting for custody of his two small daughters.
Shelton called him a few days later. He invited her to ride to Galveston with him to collect rent from a tenant there, and a romance began. That night, they made love on the beach in Galveston on a Spiderman towel. They laughed about being interrupted by Galveston police shining a spotlight on them.
"I was a little surprised at how quickly it went from a kiss to fairly serious entanglement," he says. "She was real charming. I've said this before: She was a lot of fun whenever she wasn't trying to kill me."
While the passion continued in the weeks ahead, Taylor became perplexed at the fiery side of this woman. In a later deposition to prosecutors, he told of her turning violent. At a sandwich shop near the courthouse, she became enraged and pulled his pens out of his pocket, crushing them on the floor with her feet. He had just told her he had to be with his daughters that evening. Once outside the shop, she smashed her umbrella against the side of the building.
He met her late that night and told her he didn't appreciate the flashes of anger. "She responded by racing around my bedroom with a suitcase and smashing the suitcase against the wall." Then, he says, she lifted his stereo and acted as though she was going to crash it down on his head. Police were summoned that night.
Taylor says that he tried repeatedly to break off the relationship, but that Shelton would angrily say that would not happen, sometimes going berserk at the suggestion that it was over.
Most uncomfortable for Taylor were the references to Tedesco, he says. The couple had a romantic candlelight dinner one night. In idle conversation, Shelton began with a what-if scenario:
What if she had been there with Tedesco and he'd tried to go for his gun, but she'd grabbed a barstool leg and hit him in the head -- and continued to beat him until he was dead? she asked. Then, Taylor says, she said she only wanted to hear Taylor's opinion and had made up the scenario.
Coupled with those comments were remarks by Shelton that Taylor perceived as threats, references to what had happened to Tedesco.
By late November 1979, Taylor says, he started fearing for his life.
He went to the Harris County District Attorney's Special Crimes Division, where prosecutors had been helping in the Tedesco investigation.
Taylor made a tape recording that detailed Shelton's comments, and prosecutors advised him to record conversations with her. She found out about the meeting and phoned him, alternating between hysterics and vows that he would have to "beg her for mercy."
When some of her conversations were played for others in Houston's criminal-courts pressroom, Shelton became more enraged. Taylor's roommate, Metro News Service reporter Jim Strong, also began taping the calls.
Taylor and Strong grew more concerned when they came home one night to find their home burglarized. Some standard electronic gear was gone, but so was a tape that Shelton had demanded earlier in the day. Also missing was Strong's handgun, which he kept hidden under the middle of his mattress, a location that only the roommates and Shelton knew about.
In a later telephone call, Shelton told Taylor and Strong that she just might be able to help them get their possessions back. But she wanted Taylor to apologize to her and retract everything he'd told the district attorney's office.
Taylor says Shelton spoke of him entering "the arena of death," and after more disruptions from her, he said he had reached his own breaking point. On the evening of January 14, he came home to find Shelton and Strong discussing the return of the burglarized property.
Shelton indicated that Taylor could get the possessions back if he went to her house. He testified in a later trial that he knew the last confrontation awaited him there, but that he was tired of the constant conflicts.
"I wanted to get this thing over with without my kids being involved," he said.
He testified that she made calls from her house to unknown people and that he finally told her he was going to leave. She told him to check a hallway closet. He went there, then looked up to see her pointing her .32-caliber pistol at him.
"This had turned into an execution. She wasn't killing me," he told investigators. "She was taking one last chance to yell at me. She said, 'You don't have to worry about your kids, Gary. I'm not going to kill your big-legged wife.'"
Taylor grabbed a chair and charged toward her. She fired, and the bullet ripped through the wooden seat and grazed his head above the left ear. He dashed toward the front door and was leaning over to undo the lock when Shelton fired again, hitting him in the back. Taylor ran outside, and she followed him and fired again. He made it to an all-night grocery store, where help was summoned.
Catherine Shelton had a different version of events ready for police.
She said Taylor was the aggressor. He had loaded her .22-caliber pistol and, in a deranged moment over his pending divorce, used it to back her into the bedroom. She kneeled on the floor to entreat him -- and to get close to the .32-caliber pistol she kept hidden under the bed. She grabbed it, fired a shot, and, in an exchange of gunfire with him, shot him again. Then she ran after him to try to save him, thinking he would fall and she could get help for him.
Jurors deadlocked 7-5 for conviction in the first trial in March 1980. Before the second could begin, there was a new development in the case. Tommy Anthony Bell, 25, a friend and former criminal client of Shelton's, was found shot to death in his apartment, a .357-caliber Magnum handgun nearby. Authorities eventually called it a suicide, although they also found items stolen in the burglary of Taylor's residence.
Penny Bell, the sister of the dead man, testified that Shelton owed her brother $10,000 and that he had been pestering Shelton for payment. Tedesco's relatives later filed a $10 million wrongful death suit against Shelton that alleged she and Tommy Bell killed Tedesco. That case was dismissed after Shelton was eventually convicted in the Taylor shooting.
That conviction came following a retrial in June 1980. During it, Skelton put his client on the witness stand, unlike in the first trial. Her frequent clashes with prosecutors did not endear her to the jury.
Witnesses said she demonstrated grabbing her pistol -- but from near the couch in the living room, not from under the bed. A witness said she was carrying two pistols when she chased Taylor down the street. A prosecutor accused her of planning to plant one of the weapons near Taylor to bolster her claim that the shooting was in self-defense.
The prosecution hammered on the inconsistencies, and jurors convicted Shelton. Before they decided on her 10-year prison term, she tried to open a window in the courthouse to leap out, and told authorities she had swallowed more than two dozen Valium tablets. She was rushed to a hospital, although physicians could find no indication she had any Valium in her body.
Shelton posted a bond and remained free pending the outcome of her appeal. In 1982, an appeals court reversed the conviction. They found that the trial judge improperly allowed the state to call character witnesses to vouch for the credibility of Taylor. Rather than go through a third trial, Shelton pleaded no contest to a charge of aggravated assault and received a 10-year probated sentence. Prosecutor Bert Graham says the state was ready to go to trial again, but Taylor and prosecutors were satisfied with Shelton surrendering her license to practice law while on probation.
That probation lasted until June 1988, when a visiting state district judge granted a defense motion to have it terminated.
Skelton said his client was in financial straits during the trials, so he arranged to get her a clerical job at a machine shop he owned. His last dealing with her was when she returned to the machine shop and asked him to call an attorney and give her a reference for a non-attorney job. "I called and lied through my teeth and gave her a recommendation," he says. Shelton did not leave his office, but instead yelled that he had been rude to her, Skelton says.
He finally grabbed her by the nape of her neck "and her pantyhose" and deposited her outside, Skelton says. The last he saw of her, she was running through the lot, trying to break rearview mirrors and twist off car aerials.
Taylor, now an editor for an online chemical news service, is not particularly surprised about the latest round of trouble facing his former lover.
"I thought she had a chance to get a fresh start up there," Taylor said recently from his home in Houston. "I don't know exactly what's going on, but it sounds like there's more trouble. Even though she hasn't been charged, I just say it is another example of somebody who is associated with her coming to a violent end. Everybody has to wonder about the coincidences."
A question some lawyers may now be asking themselves is, Why in the world did the State Bar of Texas ever give Shelton her law license back? The question is even more salient today, given Shelton's professional track record since she left Houston.
Since Shelton moved to Dallas, she has been the subject of numerous complaints from ex-clients, who say she pockets their money and neglects to represent them. Among lawyers, Shelton has earned a reputation for using her remarkable charm to lure other attorneys, predominantly men, into her practice by offering them free rent in exchange for a large cut of their earnings.
Invariably, something will go wrong and the attorneys will catch a glimpse of Shelton's more volatile side, says one former associate, who refused to be identified out of a fear that Shelton will retaliate.
"She's very, very likable when she's in a good mood. At any given time she'll have a lot of friends -- most of them are on the payroll," the ex-associate says. "Catherine will be very, very upbeat and friendly and then something will happen. Her mind just goes into a weird deal where the gears lock up or something, and she'll just go into a complete tirade, I mean, screaming and having a fit over something that happened 10 years ago."
One attorney who encountered both sides of Shelton is Frank Pope, who first met Shelton in the 1980s when she took a job as a paralegal at Ensearch Corp. In December 1997, Shelton invited Pope to come work with her and her associate, lawyer R. Michael Thomas. As part of the arrangement, Shelton paid the rent in exchange for 25 percent of the attorney fees Pope earned.
Pope soon discovered that he had made a mistake.
In May 1998, Shelton and Thomas filed suit against Pope in Dallas County, alleging that Pope had failed to tell Shelton about several settlements he had negotiated and accusing him of pocketing fees that should have gone to her.
Pope denied the allegations and in pleadings told the court that if "any agreement can be demonstrated...it was a result of duress." Pope went on to explain that Shelton had "threatened him with physical violence, eviction, and criminal prosecution" as part of a ploy to get him to sign a new agreement in which Shelton would receive 66 percent of Pope's fees.
According to one source, shortly after Pope arrived, Shelton began to "go into rages and throw things in the office." At one point, Shelton allegedly tried to hit him over the head with a lamp.
Pope declined to comment on the case but did confirm the lamp incident. The lawsuit was later dismissed after the parties reached an undisclosed settlement.
By the time Pope left Shelton's office in May 1998, Shelton was well known at the Commission for Lawyer Discipline, a subcommittee of the State Bar of Texas that investigates complaints of attorney misconduct.
In July 1998, the commission sued Shelton after it determined she had taken nearly $10,000 from three clients in 1997 and then failed to represent them, according to Dallas County civil court records. Shelton and the commission agreed to resolve the case by placing Shelton on a six-month probation beginning January 1, 1999.
As the case rolled through the system, Shelton allegedly began to focus her attention on another former associate, William Parker, according to Denton County criminal-court records.
Shelton employed Parker to conduct polygraph exams of her clients, but Parker decided to end the arrangement, according to an affidavit for an arrest warrant dated October 20.
"[Shelton] became very irate over [Parker's] decision and on more than one occasion has followed [him] and has trespassed on [his] private property and at his place of business," the affidavit states. "[Shelton's] actions started in February of 1998 and have continued up to October of 1999."
Shelton was arrested on a stalking charge in October and spent a little over an hour in the Denton County jail before posting a $5,000 bond. The jail time did not convince Shelton to stay away from Parker, who in November convinced Denton County authorities to grant a restraining order barring Shelton for coming near him.
Even that didn't stop Shelton, who was arrested on December 14 -- just six days before the Hierro attack -- for an earlier alleged trespassing incident in Texarkana. This time, Shelton spent 14 minutes in jail before posting yet another bond. The stalking case is scheduled for trial in March.
Three days later, Clint Shelton sued Catherine for divorce in Denton County, accusing her of adultery. A "request for admissions" later filed by Clint Shelton's divorce lawyer demanded that Catherine Shelton admit or deny she was having an affair with Parker. Catherine Shelton never responded.
In yet another bizarre twist in an already twisted story, in June, the body of Christian Hansen was found inside a bedroom in Shelton's Copper Canyon home, according to the Denton County Sheriff's office. Although little is known about Hansen's relationship with Shelton, he is reported to be an ex-client who was working off a debt he owed Shelton. Police officials say Hansen apparently died from accidental autoerotic asphyxiation.
By the time the Observer went to press Tuesday, Rowlett police still had made no arrests in the death of Michael Hierro and the attempted murder of his wife, Marisa. When the Dallas County grand jury that is hearing the case might file charges is, at this point, anyone's guess.
Although Key says he and Hierro have "full confidence" in the way police are handling the investigation, the idea that Catherine Shelton is still on the loose unnerves him.
"I didn't understand why they didn't arrest her the first night," Key says. "I felt vulnerable for myself. I felt scared."
If the probable-cause affidavit Rowlett police officer Jimmy Patterson signed last month is any indication, the cops are hot on Catherine Shelton's trail -- again.
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