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.
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