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But his wings were hardly clipped: He was barred from being within 100 yards of a school or day care, but the judge made a special exception to allow him to keep living on East 18th Street -- in a house that overlooks the playground at Field Elementary School. He was also exempted from the rule that barred him from contacting his daughters, according to court records.
Such a light sentence isn't exactly normal, "but it's not outside the norm, either," Oncken admits. When prosecutors have a weak case, she says, their only choice may be to take what they can get.
Assistant District Attorney Terese Buess didn't work on Shore's molestation case. But she explains that prosecution can be difficult with out-of-state victims. "Some of these kids are really damaged. To throw them in with a new prosecutor, when they haven't got a chance to talk or meet, it's not a good bet."
Still, Deanna Shore says she would have done anything to cooperate, but the prosecutors didn't seem to care. She learned of the plea bargain only when she called to check on the status of the case. "They told me they didn't want the girls to feel guilt. I said, 'Why should they? They are children. They don't feel guilty.' "
The girls were terrified that Tony would come for them, she says. "I was furious. I'm still furious."
Only Tony Shore seemed to think he'd gotten a tough sentence. Though he was hiding four murders, he filed a motion to withdraw his plea just weeks after accepting it.
Attorney Gifford argued in the motion that Shore had learned of the stringent requirements for registered sex offenders only 15 minutes before his plea. And while he agreed to the deal because he thought it would allow him to keep his job, he'd been fired from Southwestern Bell, the attorney stated.
The judge denied the motion, and an appeals court later upheld the sentence.
The authorities seemed intent on moving on. Shore's sister Gina had filed an affidavit telling how he cruised high schools and groped women. "I think there were a lot more girls he molested," she says. "A lot more."
No one contacted her. And though urine tests during Tony Shore's first year of probation twice revealed cocaine, he was never sent to jail.
Tony Shore's arrest as a serial killer came as more denouement than climax. Years had passed since the task force disbanded. To all but their shell-shocked relatives and a few devoted police officers, the victims had been forgotten.
His molestation conviction required Shore to give Houston police a DNA sample in 1998. He'd complained about the terms of his deal in his appeal, including court-ordered therapy. Curiously, when it came to providing the DNA, he testified, "I don't have a problem with that."
The DNA, however, was a perfect match to that left by Maria Del Carmen Estrada's killer in 1992.
But the cops didn't realize that when they obtained Shore's sample in 1998. There is sometimes a few years' delay before samples can be entered into law enforcement databases, Sergeant Swaim says. But police didn't realize they had a hit until October 2003 -- five years later.
The reason: During the time of Estrada's murder, the police department had serious problems with its crime lab, problems that didn't become public until almost a decade later. The department shuttered the lab in December 2002 after an independent audit found that analysts had been poorly trained, lab conditions were inadequate and the subsequent results were shaky at best.
In the aftermath of the audit, police decided to send samples from a few high-profile murder victims -- Estrada was among them -- to an independent lab in Dallas for testing, Swaim says. Swaim refuses to say why the evidence hadn't been tested sooner. He referred questions to Captain Richard Holland, his supervisor. Holland says he can't discuss the evidence or the reason it wasn't tested, but says "advances in technology since these murders occurred" were the key to the DNA match by the Dallas lab. He won't speculate on whether the department would have ordered the new tests if not for the DNA lab's problems.
Regardless, the test results surprised detectives. Anthony Allen Shore, on probation for molesting his daughters, was a match. This was the same guy that social workers apparently let off the hook so many times -- and the same guy the court had allowed to live next door to an elementary school. He was also the same guy who stopped in at the police station every three months to confirm his address.
The detectives rushed out to the quiet brick house off Uvalde Drive where Shore had moved about a year earlier. His second wife had left him, filing for divorce just two days after she moved out, according to court records. She would later tell the Houston Chronicle that she bolted after waking up to find his hands around her neck.
But she never filed charges, and Shore seemed to have straightened out his life. He was living with a new girlfriend, whom he called his wife, and her three teenage kids. He had purchased a wrecker and gone into the towing business. When he returned to Ernie's bar one night, he handed out business cards with his phone number and the moniker "Texas T. Shore."
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