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Sandy Shaw moved from Minnesota to Las Vegas when she was 6-years-old, and at first she fit in well with her new friends and eventual classmates at Rancho High School in Las Vegas. After a fast academic and social start (she was an honor student and cheerleader), Shaw encountered some horrific events; while at a sleepover at her friend’s house, she was a witness to multiple murders perpetrated by the husband of her friend’s mother who then committed suicide at the scene. At one point, Shaw believes the man was going to kill her as well when he positioned the gun close to her face, and for some reason, he didn’t shoot her. Months later, while waiting for her mother to pick her up from school, she witnessed her pregnant friend get shot in the head; she cradled the girl in her arms, and fortunately that girl lived. After these traumatic events, Shaw’s academic and social skills started to wane, and her social milieu shifted from preppy to edgy and disobedient; she starts hanging out late and ignoring parental directives. It is at about this time when she has a chance encounter with a 22-year-old man who identifies himself as “James Cotton Kelly”. He pesters her for her phone number and tells her that he is associated with a new adult business and wants her to pose nude. She rejects his proposals, but he is persistent and eventually obtains Shaw’s phone number from one of her girlfriends. After numerous calls, Shaw becomes worried and impatient and seeks the help of one of her childhood friends, Troy Kell. Eventually, Kell, another friend, named William Merrith, and Shaw allegedly concoct a plan whereby Shaw will accept a date with “Kelly” and lure him into the desert where he is ultimately killed and robbed on September 29th, 1986. This is where the events become disjointed. The state claimed, and successfully proved at trial, Shaw was a willing partner with the other two and the plan all along was to kill and rob “Kelly.” Shaw maintained that she never knew Kell even had a gun and that the plan only called for him to rough Kelly up; she also says the actual killing was a surprise and startling to her. To bolster their case, the state called witnesses who claimed that Shaw brought people to the grave site and sort of bragged about it. The case was eventually dubbed the “Show-And-Tell” killing case. Shaw was 15 at the time of the murder. She was convicted of first-degree murder with the use of a deadly weapon and sentenced in 1988 to life without the possibility of parole. That sentence was later commuted in 2004 technically making her “eligible” for parole but she wasn’t paroled until 2007 after serving more than 21 years. She was 36.

Sandy Shaw is now seeking a full pardon for her crimes alleging that she did not receive a fair trial. The Nevada Supreme Court had earlier affirmed her convictions largely on technical evidentiary and procedural issues. Ms. Shaw appears to be claiming that her trial counsel was ineffective at her trial in part because he lacked criminal trial experience. Moreover, she claims that the prosecutor Dan Seaton, failed to disclose exculpatory evidence and intimidated at least one critical witness. Shaw claims that the victim’s real name was not disclosed to the defense and that he was in trouble in Canada. The actual shooter, Troy Kell has submitted an affidavit wherein he claims that Shaw did not have the requisite foreknowledge that he had brought a gun to the scene. Those supporting Shaw make the point that Kell has no personal incentive to lie about such matters since he is now on death row and has been there since 1996 in Utah for an unrelated murder he committed while in prison there. Another witness who testified against Shaw, Dave Fletcher, has since maintained that he was pressured or forced by Seaton into providing damaging testimony under the threat of a jail sentence; Fletcher was alleged to have taken items from the grave/death site which is a crime in Nevada. Seaton and other authorities have denied these allegations. William Merrith was sentenced for an unrelated assault in 2008 to life without the chance for parole. In that case, he was deemed to be a “habitual criminal.” Shaw also claims the medical/autopsy reports debunk claims by one witness who said Shaw told her the victim’s throat had been slit, and he was shot between the eyes; according to Shaw’s supporters, the reports do not show this to be true. The time to appeal/raise these issues in court has apparently expired leaving Shaw with the sole remedy of getting a pardon.


Shaw has a job and continues to try to clear her name. She has expressed remorse for the victim and his family. The case was one of the most sensational ever in Nevada spurred on by the media and owing to her alleged “showing” of the victim’s body to friends. Even though she was a juvenile at the time of the offense, Nevada law did not provide for the formal requirement of certification to adulthood since murder is not a delinquent offense subject to rules governing juveniles. However, it was apparent that, in addition to being only 15, Shaw had been through some extremely harrowing circumstances. Few people in the world have witnessed such violent murders- especially up close. Surely, these events had a traumatic effect on her mental status. The combination of her youth and unusual background clearly warranted a pardon- the question now is whether the state should take the extra step and pardon her. She has served over 21 years and now presents genuinely remorseful for her role in the offense. Issues pertaining to the fairness of her trial are compelling. This case warrants a pardon.



  1. Thank you for posting this article and for your support of a woman who should have never been tried, let alone convicted. This information is basically quite accurate. I have finished a screenplay about Sandy’s story and also will write a book about the case. My association with Sandy and the case goes back to 2005, and I have read all of the material associated with the case. So much was wrong with the prosecution’s case and so much went wrong for Sandy Shaw. She never received a pre-trial psychiatric evaluation, even though that was mandatory, and even though she suffered from a horrible case of PTSD from witnessing the murders in her friend’s home (not diagnosed till she was in prison). It was illegal in Nevada to sentence a person who was 15 when a crime was committed to life without parole, and also illegal not to provide a pre-sentence investigation.. I am the one who took Dave Fletcher’s affidavit in 2007 about Seaton blackmailing him to change his testimony and lie on the stand. There was another witness I tracked down and interviewed who said that Seaton pressured him to lie; the man, Thomas Varela, age 19 when Sandy was tried, was being held on 14 felony counts, without bail, but said the day after he testified the way he was coached, was out on his own recognisance the following day. Seaton had a reputation for misconduct and was about to be disciplined, perhaps disbarred, in 1999 when he chose instead to “retire” from practicing law. James Kelly, Kell’s victim, was an alias. His real name was Thiede and he was being investigated for drug smuggling by the RCMP in Canada at the time of his murder (three family members were tried for drug smuggling using the same alias). Seaton knew that from the police report but hid that fact at the trial and from Sandy’s lawyer, even though it was exculpatory evidence that would have made her side of the story more credible. If anyone would like to read more about the case and see Dave Fletcher’s affidavit and some Sandy’s interviews, we have a Facebook page, “Pardon Sandy Shaw,” at this link:

    • so where is she now and how is she doing?

      • I had the pleasure of meeting sandy shaw in Carson city prison cause I was an inmate there. I felt that sandy got off good. Yes she was 15 but she knew what she was doing and if she didn’t she should of told the police but n stead she decided to show her friends a dead body and laugh about it. I’m happy she’s home and that she’s still old enough to have kids and move on!

  2. Additionally, the evidence points to the fact that Kell and Merritt did not intend to rob Kelly/Thiede. One of them took his wallet so he wouldn’t be identified, I believe, and that’s where Seaton came up with the robbery, felony murder charge. If anything, at most, even Kell should probably been tried for second-degree murder. Merritt turned state’s evidence against Kell and was out in four years, but since was convicted twice of assaulting, kidnapping and raping two former girl friends and as this article mentioned, he is doing life without parole on the three strikes law. Sandy, by the way, had no idea Merritt would be there that night; she didn’t know him and had never seen him before (or after, other than at their preliminary hearing).


    • She knows very well Dan! You’re seriously being lied too. If you’re in anyway interested in the truth… You need to ask questions elsewhere and not from her. You’re being lied TOO from a so called pretty face, that should have been your first clue.

  3. Childhood friends and confidants through out! Not sure my last post went through…but all and all it said Pardon this person who lived in Vegas , not yet old enough to gamble but played the cards she was dealt knowing the whole time the dealer and the house had stacked the deck against her ( a Mastermind)!…. Pppppfffffftttttt.
    There’s No One Like You!
    Love you, Joe

  4. I had the honor and privilege of communicating with Ms. Shaw while she was incarcerated. What I found most prevalent in her character was her humble nature, accountability and remorse. There was a profound amount of respect for others conveyed in her nature. I believe a great injustice was done to this woman and her loved ones. Quite frankly, after researching this case, I firmly believe the State owes this woman not only a full and immediate pardon, but financial compensation for her to sustain a lifestyle of her choosing in exchange for the great miscarriage of justice that she has endured. Ms. Shaw is a highly intelligent, educated and contributing member of our society. She has been the victim in this case since she was a child. Ms. Shaw has integrity and a moral compass that will sustain her and bring greatness to whatever she sets out to do in her life. If anyone deserves a full pardon it is Sandy Shaw.

  5. I ma so sick of hearing how innocent poor Sandy is, there is a lot more to this case then we will ever know. Yes Troy did shoot the guy but I am pretty sure Miss Shaw had a lot more to do with Troy’s state of mind then she will admit too. They remain in contact even after all these years and after she betrayed him. I know Troy very well he did not deserve to take the complete fall for this.

  6. It is creepy seeing someone by the name of Troy Kell posting “Hi” in these comments. I am wondering if it is the same Troy, or someone with the same name or someone just using that name

  7. I would love to see sandy and what she’s doing. I’m not sure but I think she got her GED while n prison. And as far as Troy,” I saw hi n film where he was stabbing this black to death and the guards whatch him do it. That blew my mind cause he’s already doing life and just took another man life. He should die and the cops that whatch him do it need to b charged with life also. Point blank!!!!

    • Yes the police are just as much to blame

    • Agreed!!! I saw that footage too! Clearly this man has no value for life nor did the security detail filming and witnessing it. The entire situation is gross. I digress back to Sandy. She not only served her time respectively but she integrated back into society and has committed no violent crimes while working a respectable job where her peers and colleagues speak highly of her work ethic and character. If those that are opposed to her release could educate themselves on her history of PTSD (witnessing another murder as a teen) and have some semblance of empathy, then maybe, just maybe they would get the human connection in all of this. The fact anyone would joyfully wring their hands at the opportunity for her to be punished further or dignify Troys actions by blaming her is disturbing and comes from the weakest notion of blame. Troy may very well be dictated by his own values and beliefs and they demonstrate a need to protect himself and those he cares about. That in and of itself is not a bad character defect. What is, is taking a life to uphold his beliefs. Be it self protection or feeling the need to protect someone else. It’s wrong and uncivilized. She paid the price of reaching out in fear. Then she paid the price if reaching out for help. She never asked for him to kill anyone in the same way no one coherced him into murdering his inmate.

  8. This case has always fascinated me. Any updates on Sandy? Any movie coming out soon?

    • We occasionally hear that a movie or tv special is possible– nothing definite. Like you, we think it would be an excellent endeavor. Thank you for your interest!

      • I would certainly hope you investigate into the story of Cotton, before you even consider a movie to be made…Mr. Bob Miller! There’s a truth to Cotton, and your missing it. You’re printing what’s coming out of Ms. Shaw’s mouth, and she doesn’t make any sense in her story. Her body language shows a lot of deception, and scoafs at his murder.
        I went to school with Cotton and his older brother and I can tell you this; what I know of Cotton Kelly (Theide), he was articulate well spoken, popular with adults and his popular with peers. He was never disrespectful or obsessive. Stalker? No way! He was a typical kid that got into trouble, yet nothing that would warrant the description that Ms Shaw is saying or what the media has done to his reputation. Shame on you for not seeking or investigating Cotton’s story. Pretty hard for him to give you his side when DEAD and can not speak for himself. He was very attractive and had a bevy of females interested in him, not the other way around. Los Vegas has a lot of beautiful women and I will never believe Cotton would seek out this child minded girl, who was in a place called ” Circus Circus”. And her having a circle of friends who’re as unstable to commit murder as she is. As she says “I felt nothing”. Yet she tries to deflect from herself and place a spot light on Cotton as a “criminal”. She knew Troy’s instabilities as she manipulated him orchestrated Cotton murder, she was the mastermind to this make no mistake. Cotton would never invested interest with a 15 year old immature attention seeking females with emotional problems. You guys are buying the “poor little victim” story and you’re buying a lie from a emotionally disturbed person.


    • I grew up with Cotton Kelly, and in school Cotton was a very popular and popular with the girls. He was a typical youth, he wasn’t perfect yet he did do anything that would warrant attention growing up. He was a really good looking guy, self-assured and confident. Cotton a stalker? No way! I would believe that the good looking Cotton refused the immature 15 year old and she couldn’t handle his rejection. What I do know of Cotton, he was never obsessive in his behaviour. He was articulate and well mannered. The way the public is ripping this young mans reputation based on what comes out of a immature 15 year old is outrageous. Remember Cotton is dead because of her….. And she continues to lie to convince everyone Cotton was a creep! I am telling everyone that is Not true!…. Not true people!

  10. She should definitely receive a pardon. The fact that her Mother had called the police about the predatory male adult harassing her underage daughter but nothing was done due to the nonexistent stalking laws at the time – should have been a mitigating factor. And the extremely traumatic events she experienced as a child, through no fault of her own, were clearly not taken into account. Giving her a life sentence in an adult prison was ridiculous and unjust.
    She used the time in prison to finish high school studies then multiple college degrees and taught other prisoners computer skills.
    She clearly deserves to be pardoned and given the opportunity to be a tax paying, valuable member of society.

  11. My grandmother married her father and my mother spent part of her childhood with Sandy as a sister. She’s technically an aunt I suppose. I’ve only met her a few times, several years ago as her father and my mother’s stepdad passed away. She’s a kind person. I was shocked when I found out about this. All I could think was that she was so beautiful and normal… but always a little scared looking. Like she was timid or on edge, I couldn’t tell but after learning this it really explained a lot. It’s… interesting the things that happen in life so close to you.

  12. Ms. Harrison,

    This comment is for you. You claim you are a friend to Troy and object to Sandy being innocent. This makes sense coming from someone that is a friend to someone that not only murdered once but twice while incarcerated. Don’t be sick over Sandy’s innocence and those that support her. Be sick over the lack of value for human life that your friend seems to exhibit. Your loyalty is disturbing at best as is your judgement of Ms. Shaw. She more than paid her debt to society for a behavior not a criminal act!! Check your moral compass before expressing your considerable frustration over the fact she was and is innocent. If what you say is true that she maintains in contact with Troy then that would not be unusual considering he had been supportive of the fact she did not cause him to take a life. As for other posts about screenplays and benefitting from Sandy’s traumatic experiences, I believe this is her story to tell.

  13. No one is innocent in this situation. Look at cases today where someone orchestrates a murder or an attack. They are found to be just as guilty. I have been friends with William Merritt since I was 5 years old. I am now 47. He has sense been sentenced to two life terms. It took him years to tell me the truth about that night. And I will tell you this, there was a lot of lying going on. Including Sandy Shaw. Now in saying this, I’m not here to judge anyone. And I am heartbroken that the little boy I played GI Joe with will more than likely die in prison. But things have been done that can not be undone. But please do not be naïve enough to think that any of the three of them are innocent in any way. Three sides to every story. His, hers and the truth.

    • Mika, I hear what you are saying. Sandy’s so-called explanation in her roll just doesn’t make sense. I grew up with Cotton Kelly, and in school Cotton was a very popular and popular with the girls. He was a typical youth, he wasn’t perfect yet he did do anything that would warrant attention growing up. He was a really good looking guy, self-assured and confident. Cotton a stalker? No way! I would believe that the good looking Cotton refused the immature 15 year old and she couldn’t handle his rejection. What I do know of Cotton, he was never obsessive in his behaviour. He was articulate and well mannered. The way the public is ripping this young mans reputation based on what comes out of a immature 15 year old is outrageous. Remember Cotton is dead because of her….. And she continues to lie to convince everyone Cotton was a creep! I am telling everyone that is Not true!…. Not true people!

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