Shawna Nelson Found Guilty In Love-Triangle Slaying

Automatic Sentence Of Life Without Parole Given

Jurors resumed deliberations Monday morning in Fort Collins and quickly reached a verdict, finding Shawna Nelson guilty of the first-degree murder in the slaying of Heather Garraus.

Nelson was quickly sentenced to life without the possibility of parole -- the mandatory sentence for a first-degree murder conviction.

"You carried out this plan with great deliberation. You deserve to serve every day of the sentence I will impose," said Weld County District Judge Roger Klein.

Nelson displayed no emotion as the guilty verdict was read and declined the judge's invitation to make a statement before he handed down the sentence. Her family, sitting behind her, shook their heads and appeared to be in shock.

"We're disappointed in the result, obviously," said Nelson's attorney, Kevin Strobel. "There will be an appeal."

The jury got the case on Friday and deliberated Friday afternoon without reaching a verdict. It announced it had reached a verdict at 9:45 a.m. Monday. The trial lasted 10 days and it took the jury 5 hours and 45 minutes to reach a unanimous guilty verdict.

Garraus was shot execution style on Jan. 23, 2007. Witnesses said the masked killer, dressed in black, confronted Garraus in the parking lot of the Greeley credit union where Garraus worked and told her, "You ruined my life. Get on the ground."

Garraus replied, "OK, OK" and knelt down, and the killer in a black robe fired two shots from a handgun and fled, witnesses said.

Garraus was the wife of a Greeley police officer Ignacio Garraus, who had an affair and fathered a child with Nelson, a former Weld County dispatcher. Ignacio Garraus broke off the three-year affair a month before the shooting.

Witnesses said the killer yelled, "You ruined my life!" before shooting Garraus.

Nelson's family and attorney said Greeley police rushed to judgment by finger-pointing Nelson.

"I just feel that to me, Shawna was arrested, tried and convicted within 15 minutes of this horrible thing happening," said Nelson's sister, Debbie Smith, who broke down in tears. "I will never in my heart believe that she did this. And I will never quit fighting for her."

Smith said police never looked for any other suspect, but prosecutors disagree.

"If the police focus in on somebody right away, the defense's mantra is: rush to judgment. If the police don't focus in on somebody right away, the defense's mantra is: ladies and gentlemen, the police don't even know who did this," said prosecutor Cliff Riedel.

Prosecutors argued that Shawna was the only person with motive to kill Heather and in a closing statement, asked jurors to give Heather justice. Heather's friends and family felt, with a guilty verdict, justice has been served.

"We are happy. It was the right thing. And we're glad that it's done and over with," said Maria Valdez, Heather's friend.

Ignacio Garraus left the justice center without comment.

"I feel he's just as guilty. I'm sorry to say it, but that's just the way I feel," said one of Shawna's friends.

The amount of evidence against Shawna Nelson was nothing short of overwhelming. Prosecutors put 40-plus witnesses on the stand and introduced 120 exhibits. Defense attorneys put forward two witnesses -- Shawna Nelson and an independent investigator.

Nelson testified that she was on her way to a liquor store at the time of the shooting and that she forgot her shoes because she was in a hurry.

Prosecutors said the shoes worn by the killer were tossed after the slaying. They were found 700 feet from where Nelson's pickup truck was stopped by police. They contained Nelson's DNA and some gunshot residue. In addition, gunshot residue was detected on some of the clothes that Nelson wore. Tire tracks left in the snow by the killer's vehicle also matched those on Nelson's truck.

Nelson's attorney countered that no gunshot residue was found on the red and black mask that Nelson allegedly wore and the gunshot residue on her clothes could have come from a transfer of residue inside the truck that was also used by her husband, a Weld County investigator who frequently handled firearms.

Nelson's husband, Ken Nelson, is also charged in the same case. He's accused of tampering with evidence for allegedly handling the gun that police believe was used to kill Heather Garraus.

Ken Nelson said during the trial that his wife knew how to shoot and load the weapon. He took the stand after the judge assured him his testimony would not be used against him in the tampering case.

Ken Nelson announced last week that he will seek a divorce from Shawna Nelson. He was going to divorce his wife after learning she was having an affair with Ignacio Garraus and was pregnant with Ignacio's child, but Ken Nelson said they reconciled and he agreed to help raise the child, named Christian.

Ken Nelson had resigned from the sheriff's department before his arrest. Ignacio Garraus resigned from the police force a few weeks after his wife was killed.

The trial was moved to nearby Fort Collins in Larimer County because of pretrial publicity and the possibility that jurors might know the witnesses.

While some people say Greeley police had a conflict of interest in this case, prosecutors say investigators handled the case professionally.

"I think this verdict is in no short measure because of the outstanding work they did on this case," Riedel said.

Shawna Nelson's one-time best friend, Michelle Moore, pleaded guilty last week to being an accessory to crime after prosecutors accused her of helping plan the slaying. Moore testified during Nelson's trial that she and Nelson had discussed how to kill Heather Garraus.

The defense tried to discredit Moore by portraying her as Shawna Nelson's spurned lover. Shawna Nelson testified she and Moore had a romantic relationship, but Moore denied it.

Prosecutors wouldn't talk about any evidence in the case, citing two pending trials for Ken Nelson and Moore, but they did say the evidence was complicated.

"It was really a case of trying to narrow their focus and have them focus on the important things that we believed truly showed guilt in this case," said prosecutor Gregory Lammons.

"The Shawna Nelson I know is funny. She's a devoted mother. She loves her children. She has raised three really good children. She's a good sister. She's a good daughter and she's very loyal," said Smith.

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