Homicide victim Curtis Shelley’s family and a friend say they are hurt and angry about a Bell County grand jury decision lastthis week to not indict the shooter on murder or any lesser charges.
“What happened to Curtis was devastating; he was murdered in the street like an animal,” said Amanda Shelley, who was married to Curtis’ brother. “There’s no justice in this: That man should be in jail. We all want justice for Curtis.”
Thousands of people have viewed the video, taken by a neighbor, of the homicide of Shelley, 27, on Nov. 12, 2017, in the 1000 block of Cedar Drive in Killeen. The video, which depicts an argument between Shelley, unarmed, and another man holding a shotgun before shooting Shelley with it, spawned nationwide interest in the case and a Change.org petition.
“It shook me to the core,” said Troy Foster. “I’ll never get over seeing an innocent person harmed like that.” Foster, of Ohio, became a friend of Shelley’s brother after seeing the video of the shooting and reaching out to the family to help.
Amanda Shelley said her children still miss their fun-loving uncle, who once created a splash pad out of garbage bags and a water hose in the backyard.
“My kids have to grow up without their uncle, and this man gets a slap on the wrist for killing someone we all loved,” she said. “I’m upset, hurt, angry and sad.”
Amanda Shelley said her brother-in-law was a good uncle and brother who “had a heart of gold.”
“He was a down-to-earth person who would drop everything to help someone,” she said. “There’s nobody else like him and I miss him a lot.”
She said the justice system should have worked differently in this case.
The video does not depict what the two men were saying, but Amanda Shelley said the argument was about a dog dispute.
Amanda Shelley said on the day of the shooting, the suspect was driving along the road, saw Shelley and confronted him, shotgun in hand.
Transparency versus privacy
“Curtis’ brother has been frustrated the whole time,” Foster said. He said communication with the district attorney’s office has been minimal, and they were not kept informed of progress on the case.
“It hit (Shelley’s brother) like a bomb,” Foster said. “It went from shock on the day it happened to nothing for a year. There has been zero transparency.”
The shooter is related to a Killeen Police Department officer, which is why the Texas Rangers investigated the case, said Bell County District Attorney Henry Garza, in a previous statement. Neither KPD nor the district attorney has provided the KPD officer’s name.
Garza has declined to answer the Herald’s question about why the shooter’s name has not been released publicly.
Garza said the case was not treated differently because the shooter is related to a KPD police officer.
“This case is being presented as any other case,” Garza told the Herald in January. “We gather facts and present those facts to the grand jury for their consideration.”
Garza would not say if the grand jury saw the video of the shooting. The grand jury met on Wednesday.
“Texas law keeps confidential all information presented to a grand jury and prevents my office from commenting on such matters,” he said Thursday. “In this instance, all relevant facts and evidence were presented to the grand jury for their consideration to determine what offense, if any, to return an indictment or not to return an indictment.”
Garza drew a distinction in privacy when a case presented to the grand jury results from an investigation, as opposed to a complaint.
“In cases when an investigation is presented to a grand jury, the information presented is confidential under Texas law and prevents disclosure. It’s unlike a case in which a complaint or indictment is returned and this information becomes a public record,” he said.
‘Protect the suspect’
Foster questioned whether the grand jury heard, or saw, the whole story on Wednesday. “Curtis’ girlfriend, who was there, and the neighbor who took the video were not called as witnesses and were not notified (that the grand jury was convening),” he said. “It’s crazy to me, especially when there’s a saying in the legal field that a prosecutor could indict a ham sandwich. The prosecutor is supposed to present evidence to get the indictment, not protect the suspect from prosecution by not presenting all the evidence.”
Foster reacted to the way the suspect seemed to have been treated differently than suspects in other homicides.
“It seems the district attorney moves lightning fast in some cases, and this one was just delayed,” Foster said. “It raises a lot of red flags that he (the suspect) was never arrested or incarcerated, never had to make bail, and his name was not released right away like they usually do.”
The grand jury chose to not indict the suspect on murder, or a lesser charge such as manslaughter.
The difference between murder, a first-degree felony punishable by 5 to 99 years or life in prison, and manslaughter, a second-degree felony punishable by 2 to 20 year in prison, is the state of mind of the person accused.
Murder, which includes “sudden passion,” requires an “intentional” and “knowing” mental state while manslaughter covers “reckless” behavior, according to Chapter 19 of the Texas Penal Code.
In Texas, people have a right to defend themselves with lethal force if threatened, but only up to a point.
“Everyone assumed it was an open and shut case of murder, not self-defense,” Foster said. The suspect “didn’t have to stop his truck, he didn’t have to get out and he could have left at any time. It’s hard to come to any other conclusion.”
A Change.org petition that was created in 2017 now is closed and collected 1,559 signatures from people denouncing the suspect.
“I’m thankful to everyone who has supported the family,” Foster said.