A Fayette County jury found a McClellandtown man not guilty of criminal homicide and other charges filed against him in the 2018 shooting death of a Masontown man.
Christopher Shellhammer, 31, wept in the courtroom, shaking the hand of his attorney, Assistant Public Defender Michael Aubele, after the verdict was read, while family also cried and hugged one another.
Shellhammer was charged with criminal homicide, aggravated assault, reckless endangerment, possession with intent to deliver drugs and possession of marijuana in connection with the Jan. 15, 2018 death of Michael Shane Henrick, 39. Jurors acquitted him of all but the possession count, and President Judge John F. Wagner Jr. sentenced Shellhammer to time served, qualifying him for immediate release from prison. Shellhammer has been incarcerated without bond since his arrest in January 2018.
Shellhammer had long contended he was defending himself when he shot Henrick, but prosecutors argued that Henrick and his girlfriend, who was also at the Masontown home when the shooting occurred, were unarmed and Shellhammer could’ve escaped.
Under the criminal homicide charge, the jury was allowed to consider first- or third-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter or acquittal.
In his closing argument Thursday, Aubele argued there was no evidence Shellhammer went to the home to sell Henrick’s girlfriend, Kelly French, drugs, or that his client shot Henrick with pre-meditation.
“They didn’t prove anything,” Aubele told jurors.
He asked them consider circumstantial evidence that he argued showed Henrick was at the home before Shellhammer got there, intending to set Shellhammer up for an assault or robbery. French testified Henrick came home after Shellhammer arrived, but Aubele noted that Henrick was not wearing a shirt in 20-degree weather, his shoes were dry though there was snow outside and his possessions were in his bedroom.
He also argued that French sent Shellhammer text messages to lure him to the house, promising to “smoke and play,” reassuring him that Henrick wasn’t at home and no one would be there until the following day
“This was certainly planned, and they knew how to get Chris there,” Aubele said.
Shellhammer, who testified in his own defense, told jurors Wednesday that he tried to leave when Henrick arrived, but was attacked by both Henrick and French. He testified he pulled out his legally-owned firearm and fired three times.
Aubele argued that forensic evidence supports that Shellhammer was down on the ground when he fired the three shots. Two hit Henrick and one hit a wall 47 inches off the ground and at an upward angle.
“Chris had to be on the ground to put that bullet in the wall,” Aubele said, contending Shellhammer was on the ground because of the assault from French and Henrick.
In his closing, Assistant District Attorney Ryan Benninger argued that Shellhammer shot an unarmed man, contending all Henrick did was ask him why he was here. Benninger argued Henrick never assaulted Shellhammer.
“What do his actions tell you?” Benninger asked of Shellhammer, arguing Shellhammer didn’t like Henrick and brought a gun with him to confront Henrick. “Is that reasonable? Are (Shellhammer’s) actions reasonable to shoot (Henrick) in the back?”
Following the verdict, Shellhammer’s mother, Kathryn Jones, told the media she was overwhelmed with joy at the jury’s finding. She expressed sympathy to Henrick’s family, and said she feels badly for French, who is currently being held in the Fayette County Prison on charges that she alleged conspired to set up a man to be robbed at her home earlier this year. That man, police contend, was tied up in French’s basement, where he was beaten, stabbed and threatened.
Aubele was barred from questioning French about the pending criminal case when she testified for prosecutors earlier this week.