By Bob Allen
Attorneys for an Alabama Baptist minister charged with murdering his wife say their client would have surrendered voluntarily if he had known a warrant for his arrest had been issued. Avoiding his Jan. 1 arrest while trying to board an international flight bound for Germany, the story is making headlines across the country.
Homewood, Ala., police chief Jim Roberson said in a press conference Jan. 2 that detectives wanted to arrest Richard Shahan, 53, who until recently was children and families pastor and facilities director at First Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., before he left the country.
“Obviously once he got over into Germany and ultimately to Russia, the chances of extraditing him are pretty nil,” Roberson said. “I mean if we can’t get Snowden back, we probably wouldn’t get him back.”
Roberson said Shahan is the only suspect in the slaying of 52-year-old Karen Shahan, whose body was found July 23 in the couple’s home after she didn’t show up for work. While not disclosing any evidence beyond “inconsistencies” in his interviews, Roberson said, “We are confident we obtained the warrant for and arrest of the person who committed this crime.”
Shahan is being held without bond in Tennessee as a fugitive from justice without warrant. Police say Shahan didn’t know about a murder warrant for his arrest issued Dec. 31 until Homeland Security officials pulled him out of line after the computer system red-flagged his passport at Nashville International Airport. He is expected to waive extradition and return to Alabama voluntarily.
Attorneys representing Shahan said they didn’t know about the warrant until after his arrest. Police held Shahan two days for questioning in August but did not place him under arrest.
“We all knew that Richard was going to Germany as part of his mission trip,” attorney John Lentine said in an interview with CBS affiliate WIAT television in Birmingham. “That had been known publicly for a month or two prior to this. Law enforcement knew it. Everybody knew it.”
“It would have seemed to us it would have been easier if we had been informed of it, and we would have talked to Richard and Richard would have come back and turned [himself] in,” Lentine said.
“It’s unfortunate that it’s now been put out there that he was trying to flee the country when everybody who knew anything about this publicly knew that he had plans of going on a mission trip, as he did back in 2012, for months prior to this coming out.”
Reata Nix, who worked with Karen Shahan at Hobby Lobby in Homewood for a year and a half, told Fox affiliate WBRC she was surprised by the pastor’s arrest but glad police are still working a case that went unsolved for five months.
Nix said she saw Richard Shahan come occasionally into Hobby Lobby and never sensed any problems in their marriage.
“She adored Richard. She loved him very much,” Nix said. “She spoke highly of him. She spoke often of him. She spoke about his missions. They were very much in church. She loved to talk about Jesus and what He did and what He does and how great it is to work with children. That was her life.”
Nix described Karen Shahan as “the sweetest human being that walked the face of the earth” and the last person she would expect to be targeted for murder.
“She was probably the meekest, the most humble, most beautiful person that you would ever meet,” Nix said. “At Hobby Lobby we certainly enjoyed having her there. She was uplifting. She was always singing. She was always happy. She was never negative. She was the greatest person to be around. She was such a joy to be around. She’s missed. She is missed terribly.”
Throughout the investigation, police have been tight-lipped about details of the crime scene, but unconfirmed media reports indicate Karen Shahan was stabbed to death and the house was found in disarray and with a window broken.
Charles Carter, the interim pastor at First Baptist Church in Birmingham who preached the Sunday following her death, said one of the investigating detectives called it “the most brutal murder that he had ever examined.”
“In this instance we see a totally depraved human mind and human personality,” Carter, a retired pastor and former Alabama Baptist Convention president, said in his sermon July 28. “Whoever did this dastardly deed is a sinner in need of salvation.”
Shahan’s attorney said it’s now up to a jury to decide whether the authorities have the right man.
“Ultimately this thing is going to be decided in court,” Lentine said. “That’s where it should be decided, not with the press, not with law enforcement saying their side of it or not with us saying our side of it. It’s going to be decided by a jury based on proof and evidence, and we look forward to helping Richard through that as best we can.”