Love Hurts

Six of her ex-lovers or associates are wounded or dead. Authorities wonder if old ways die hard for former Houston attorney Catherine Mehaffey Shelton.

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 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.

Michael Hierro warned his wife, Shelton's ex-employee, before he was killed by a shotgun blast.
Michael Hierro warned his wife, Shelton's ex-employee, before he was killed by a shotgun blast.
Houston newsman Gary Taylor, who was shot by Shelton, hoped Dallas would give her a fresh start.
Houston Press
Houston newsman Gary Taylor, who was shot by Shelton, hoped Dallas would give her a fresh start.

"The Rowlett SWAT team, in full battle gear Š with gas masks on, battered open her front door," Taylor says. "She was there at home at ten 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 ten 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 says 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 is an avid hunter.

"It's completely inconceivable that somebody who is a certified peace officer Š 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 said last week. "Have you ever dealt with a crazy person? You can't expect this to make sense. It doesn't make any sense. [Shelton] is just a fucking nut."

There is no question that Shelton has a criminal history and is still prone to threatening behavior. In Denton County, Shelton faces a misdemeanor charge of stalking a 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 the condition that they not be identified, say 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 Houston Press 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 Dallas Observer, the Houston Press's sister paper, 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 said 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 he refuses to speak on the record about his former client. Taylor, Shelton's current lawyer, says Shelton was helping police investigate complaints that Hierro was ripping off immigrant clients.

Shelton 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 an agreed judgment in a 1998 lawsuit filed against her by the State Bar of Texas, Shelton received a probated suspension for the first six months of 1999. She was allowed to practice law during that time.

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.

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