Line Of Defense

Catherine Mehaffey Shelton puts down her glass of Beaujolais and walks quickly out of her bedroom, searching through her pitch-dark house for a gun. "Where is that damn gun?" she says, walking back into the room and rifling through two sets of dresser drawers. Her husband, Clint Shelton, could tell her where the gun is. It's his, one he keeps in the house with myriad other firearms: three 12-gauge shotguns, two shotguns used to shoot clay targets, a Glock, an AK-47, revolvers and others. Clint Shelton can't help his wife, though, because he's in Dallas County jail, kept there by a $1 million bail, placed there because police suspect he killed 30-year-old Michael Hierro and wounded his wife, Marisa Hierro, in their Rowlett driveway in December.

"I can't find it," says Catherine Shelton, a former Houston attorney. She sits down in the wingback chair next to her bed, shaking her head. She wants to show the type of gun and armor-piercing ammo Clint would use if he wanted to kill someone. She can't figure out how anyone would believe that her husband, an avid hunter and expert marksman, would kill someone with a shotgun, something so cumbersome, so common. "He could have killed half the neighborhood if he wanted to," she says. "You don't take a knife to a gunfightŠ.He has an armory in here."

"Here" is Catherine Shelton's home in Copper Canyon, in rural Denton County outside of Dallas. She bought a house there in March 1999 and moved there in August from her small, elegant home in the Big D hamlet of University Park, hoping to leave behind many unpleasant things. She would leave her unhappy marriage, reacquaint herself with old flames and friends. She envisioned a fresh start, a way to hide from old ghosts.

But her troubles did not disappear; they intensified. A construction worker at her house accidentally hung himself in an autoerotic incident in June. Ex-clients made claims of professional misconduct against her. The IRS began investigating her and put a lien on her property. Her purported paramour brought stalking and trespassing charges against her. Finally, Marisa Hierro, a former Shelton employee, identified Catherine and Clint Shelton as her attackers.

"I was not there that night, the night of the murder," she says, talking calmly -- a rare calm for Shelton, who is usually hyperactive even when happy. "[But] I think the deck is stacked pretty hard against me, and I think I stand a good chance of going to prison. I could run awayŠ.But I won't do that to [Clint], because he doesn't belong there in jail."

Catherine Shelton's love-hate relationship with her husband, who filed for divorce one month before the December 20 murder of Michael Hierro, is just one of the contradictions that Shelton, her attorneys and her friends say make this case more complex than has been presented by the media so far (see "Love Hurts," by Rose Farley and George Flynn, January 13).

She lays out her side of the story: an alibi through phone records, Marisa Hierro's alleged vendetta against Shelton, Shelton's alleged affair with the man many suspect with first pointing the finger at her after the murder. Her friends must wonder whether they know a killer.

I wonder, because I have known Catherine Shelton for nearly eight years. She has purchased gifts for me and my family, taken us to dinner, and had us over for Christmas parties and dinner parties. She is someone who trusted and befriended me after I wrote a 1992 D Magazine story about a client of hers who was falsely accused of killing a baby.

Shelton says she had nothing to do with the death of Michael Hierro, just as she had no part in the deaths of others close to her who died under unusual or violent circumstances. She argues that because of her habit of angering and defaming former associates, they have as much reason to conspire against her as she does them. To bolster this argument, Shelton and her defenders point out that the two people they believe are most responsible for the suspicion she is under, Denton County polygraph examiner Bill Parker (who has filed stalking charges against Shelton) and Marisa Hierro, appear to have complex, troubled relationships with Shelton.

"I won't be telling you that I murdered anybody, because I haven't done that," Shelton says. "I'm going to tell you about some professional infractionsŠ.But so what? What the hell?Š.What [else] can I do? They're all after me. I've pissed off the world."

TTicking off people seems to be something Catherine Shelton has been doing for a long time. Her list of turbulent relationships begins with her first husband, Navy officer Matt Quinlan. She was accused of shooting at him in 1969. She says the gun went off accidentally.

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Eric Celeste