Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Story of Shaina Sepulvado

Shaina Sepulvado was convicted of capital murder in 2007 in the death of her stepfather, James Kelly. The crime took place about a year and a half earlier in 2005, a couple of months after Shaina had turned 16.

By the time Shaina was convicted and sentenced to life without any possibility of parole, she was 17 years old. Shaina was demonized by the press and referred to repeatedly as "evil" in statements given by Kelly's family.

Shaina was one of four people to stand trial for Kelly's murder. Her mother, Marcia Kelly, was also charged with murder even though she claimed to be at work in another town. The conviction was based on testimony suggesting that Marcia had hired an individual by the name of Colton Weir to murder her husband. Marcia's attorney argued in his closing statement that even though testimony was provided to the court suggesting she played a role in her husband's death that the state of Texas had not met its burden of proof.

The jury disagreed. Marcia's attorney managed to work into his closing statement that she would receive a life without parole sentence if convicted, but this had little effect on the jury's decision that the prosecution met its burden.

With so many defendants involved in a single case, it was likely difficult for the jury to wrap their head around the true events leading up to Kelly's murder. The lack of physical evidence did not help to clarify what role, if any, particular people played. Additionally, testimony was at times confusing and contradictory.

In reference to the competency of those involved in Kelly's murder, the attorney offered the following in his closing statement: "The cast of characters is somewhat startling. The activities that these people engaged in are things that we, in normal society, just don't realize exist. The drugs involved and the alcohol involved have led these young people to make mistake after mistake after mistake in their lives, culminating with the death of James Kelly...a tragic death, should never have occurred."

The state's case was built on circumstantial evidence. Though Shaina had a difficult childhood by many accounts, the circumstances of her upbringing were not considered by the jury. Shaina's own mother admits now that her daughter was sexually abused by Kelly, reflecting on a time when she found her husband's favorite sex toy in her daughter's bedroom, and then also recalling a significant change in her daughter's behavior after evenings when she left the young girl alone with her stepfather.

On Marcia's web site, where she makes public appeals for people to assist her in obtaining legal help, she wrote: "During my trial when the D.A., Stephanie Stephens asked Shaina why she never told anyone, Shaina answered because James had threatened to hurt me, and to start molesting Jami (her younger sister), whom he knew she adored. Stephens called her a liar and an evil person."

Though Shaina was painted as the criminal mastermind who coordinated the murder of her stepfather in retaliation for his having sexually abused her, the fact was that her intellect was below average. An appeal of her waiver into adult court revealed that her IQ was 73. The licensed psychologist, Dr. Donald Winsted, III, classified her intelligence level as being "borderline". A person with this degree of intelligence is considered cognitively impaired. Winsted additionally described Shaina as emotionally immature, estimating that she was functioning at the level of a ten year old child.

The most striking thing about the psychologist's findings related to Shaina's overall lack of sophistication with regard to intelligence and planning. The appeal reads, "Winsted stated that someone with a profile like [Sepulvado's] would tend to be more influenced by that person's mother's request that she kill someone and would have more difficulty deciding that such a thing was not in her best interest."

Perhaps the biggest issue pertains to Shaina's competency at the time of her trial. She was a 16 year old teenager who was functioning emotionally and cognitively at the level of a ten year old. She was operating at an intellectual level that made her susceptible to manipulation on the part of others. It is astounding that the state of Texas found Shaina competent to stand trial, let alone competent to stand trial as an adult.

There also appear to be other mitigating factors that must be considered in addition to her degree of functioning. If Shaina was experiencing sexual and physical abuse, as she testified to in court, this certainly would have been an influencing factor. Shaina's mother admits to seeing repeated signs of abuse and all but ignoring them. She wrote about allowing her daughter to move out of the family home at the age of 15 to "keep the peace", suggesting she was in the habit of putting the needs of her husband over those of her own daughter.

Other disturbing facts are present when one begins to dig into this already convoluted case. Though Marcia references Shaina a number of times on her web site, her appeals for legal help do not extend to Shaina at all. A trust fund was established to collect donations to assist Marcia, but there is no indication that any of the proceeds are intended to help her daughter. It is possible these pleas for help/money exist on the part of Marcia, for Shaina, but I was unable to find them.

There is, however, a woman who is assisting Shaina in an effort to obtain legal help for an appeal. Her name is Lili and she started a petition to ask that Shaina receive a full pardon. Please view the petition at the following link and considering signing on behalf of Shaina:

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