On October 18, 2004, Arthur Shelton, a self described Christian and Eagle Scout, murdered his friend and roommate, Larry Hooper, because Hooper didn't believe in God.
On December 18, 2005, after many months of postponements, Arthur Shelton, with his defense attorney, Seymour Swartz, appeared at the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice in Detroit, Michigan, before Judge Gregory D. Bill to face charges of murder in the first degree brought by Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, Christina Guiruis.
The trial began with the taped phone call Arthur Shelton placed to the Taylor police department in Taylor, Michigan, October 18, 2004, at precisely 12:44 AM. Shelton sounded calm and pridefull when he told the dispatcher he had just shot "the devil himself" with a revolver and a shotgun because "he (Hooper) didn't believe in God." Shelton told the dispatcher he was "still armed and ready to shoot again in case he moves. I want to make sure he's gone." When the dispatcher asked how many times he shot the victim Shelton replied, "hopefully enough."
Throughout the 15 minute phone call Shelton often repeated, "I'm a Christian and an Eagle Scout and I wouldn't lie," and "don't worry about me, I'm fine, but he's the devil." The dispatcher struggled to persuade Shelton to lay down his weapon and go outdoors with his arms raised. Shelton resisted, as he feared Hooper might not be "dead enough", but eventually complied.
Dead enough was an understatement. When the police arrived they were confronted with the grizzly scene of Hooper sitting upright on the couch with his head blown away and his brain laying on his hand. The autopsy report presented by the prosecutor was gruesome to be sure, but, for the record, Larry Hooper tested negative for all narcotics and alcohol.
Testimony by the arresting officer and the officers transporting Shelton to the police station revealed that while the officers were interested in gathering details about the incident, Shelton was obsessed with talking about God, the Eagle Scouts and stating he "would not talk to anyone who didn't believe in God but that he would talk to the police because he felt they believed in God."
On the second day of the trial the court played the videotape of the late night interrogation with Arthur Shelton. He appeared calm, cooperative and enjoyed the cookies and milk he was served. Once again Arthur was obsessed about talking about God and the Eagle Scouts. He stated he "was not sorry for a second that he killed Hooper." He stated, "In the eyes of the law I was wrong and will probably spend the rest of my life in prison, but in the eyes of God I have killed an evil person -- the devil himself." And when Arthur took the witness stand in his own defense he reiterated much of the same ideas.
Day three of the trial we heard summary arguments. The defense had little problem proving that Arthur is obsessed with religion, God and Eagle Scouts and pleaded for a verdict of not guilty due to insanity. The prosecution had little problem proving that Arthur was competent, knew the difference between right and wrong and called for a verdict of guilty of murder in the first degree. As this was a wavered trial Judge Bill rendered his verdict quickly -- guilty of second-degree murder with mental illness.
On December 19, 2005, we returned to Judge Bill's court to witness sentencing of Arthur Shelton. The prosecution asked for the 'high end' of punishment - 25 to 45 years, while the defense was still pleading for not guilty due to insanity or, at the very most, a soft sentence at the 'low end' of punishment 15 to 22 years. Judge Bill invited Shelton to make a statement and after fumbling for words Shelton stated he was sorry that Larry was dead but he did a job that had to be done. He stated that he actually, "saw fire and smoke coming from Larry's eyes and knew he was the devil himself."
Judge Bill proceeded to tenderly read letters written to him from Shelton's family members pleading for leniency. Shelton sat facing the audience and blew kisses to his tearful and sometimes sobbing family. In the end, the now stern-faced Judge Bill pronounced sentencing -- 25 to 45 years. Shelton was stunned and tried to negotiate the sentence stating, "I'm 50 years old and that is as good as a life sentence." Judge Bill responded, "Mr. Shelton you gave Larry Hooper a life sentence by committing one of the most heinous murders to come before my court." (In a private conversation, the prosecutor, Ms Guirguis, explained that Michigan law requires that Shelton must serve 25 years before being eligible for parole.)
I add now a disgusting chain of events that took place in the courtroom, the hallways, the lobby of the court building, the staircase outside of the courthouse and even the ladies bathroom. George Shiffer and myself attended day one of the trial. Upon arrival we were asked who we were and I gave the court my American Atheist business card. Word that we were Atheists traveled fast in this court room that offered very limited seating and the only others in attendance were 11 members of Shelton's family who immediately began taunting George and me with "the people from hell, evil, and devils." At breaks they waited for us in the hall and continued with more of the same while adding "God loves you" and blowing us kisses and shoving their crosses (worn on chains around their necks) in our faces. Several of the women even followed me into the bathroom and did their best to intimidate me with their crosses. Through it all George and I never flinched, but at the conclusion of the day I reported this taunting to the Officer of the Court who admitted that they were aware of the problem and escorted us to the elevator, past and to the disappointment of the waiting group of 'good Christians'.
On Day two when George and I, together with Joe Milon, entered the court room the taunting began immediately. Within an hour the Judge announced that those making gestures and faces had better cease or they would be removed. For the balance of the day the Christians wore their neck crosses on their backs, as we were seated in the back row, while constantly flopping them about with their hand. When we returned from lunch (without court escort) the Christians were waiting for us on the seventh floor and lunged at us with small signs they had painted -- 'Jesus lives', 'God loves you' -- and, again, thrusted their crosses within 2 or 3 inches from our noses. Tempers flared and a brief shouting match began. Brief because the court officers were there in a flash.
Day three found Atheist Lee Helms in the same taunted position of the previous days though he was not known to the court or the Christians. At the conclusion of the day an officer of the court detained him stating they have been having trouble with 'those people' (Christians) and escorted him to the elevators.
Even with all that behind us, December 19th, the day of sentencing, was still a horrific experience for myself, George Shiffer, Joe Milon, Lee Helms and Marty Maier. When leaving the courtroom the 'Christian' Shelton family lay in wait for us in the hallway. Their tears dried, they surrounded us shouting these comments: "The one good thing of all of this is that another Atheist is dead and the world is better off for it" and "The only good Atheist is a dead Atheist."
Michigan State Director
PO Box 0025
Allen Park, MI 48101