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.

"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 very different version of events ready for police.

Shelton arrives with attorneys Randy Taylor (left) and Jerry Cobb for a hearing on the stalking charge.
Kess Gilhome
Shelton arrives with attorneys Randy Taylor (left) and Jerry Cobb for a hearing on the stalking charge.

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 knelt on the floor to entreat him -- and to get close to her .32-caliber pistol she kept hidden under the bed, she insisted. 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 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 convicted in the Taylor shooting.

That conviction came following a retrial in June 1980. During that trial 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 had been in self-defense.

The prosecution hammered on the inconsistencies, and jurors convicted Shelton. Before they decided on her ten-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 of 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. It 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 ten-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 says 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 panty hose" 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 on-line 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.

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