By Bob Allen
An Alabama Baptist minister accused of fatally stabbing his wife in the home they rented from their church in 2013 pleaded not guilty to murder in a pretrial hearing and arraignment in a Birmingham, Ala., courtroom Feb. 2.
Monday morning marked the first court appearance for Richard Shahan, former children and families pastor and facilities director at First Baptist Church in Birmingham since a grand jury indicted him for murder in October.
Shahan, 54, was arrested on New Year’s Day in 2014 while waiting to board an international flight to Germany at an airport in Nashville, Tenn. Prosecutors said he was fleeing to avoid arrest in the murder of Karen Louise Shahan, 52, found dead in the couple’s home after friends grew concerned when she didn’t show up for work on the morning of July 23, 2013.
Lawyers for Richard Shahan denied he was trying to flee, but rather had already announced plans to leave the country to conduct missionary work in Eastern Europe. Police questioned Shahan for two days in August 2013 but released him without filing charges. Lawyers said Shahan didn’t know a warrant for his arrest had been issued until Homeland Security pulled him aside after an airport security computer red-flagged his passport.
At his bond hearing January 2014, prosecutors alleged that based on emails obtained from his computer Shahan intended to leave the United States for good and ultimately move to the United Kingdom to marry another man. Shahan was released on $100,000 bond under house arrest with electronic monitoring.
Shahan is a 1985 graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. He was licensed as a minister by South Del Baptist Church in Del City, Okla., in 1980 and ordained in 1983 by Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas.
Shahan worked six years as minister of childhood education and then business administrator at Wedgwood, and three years as associate pastor in education and family development at First Baptist Church in Bryan, Texas, before moving to Birmingham in 1989 as associate pastor in childhood education and family growth at Shades Mountain Baptist Church.
He stayed 10 years before moving to Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., where as associate pastor in education and administration he oversaw an $11 million budget. He taught one year as an adjunct professor at the M. Christopher White School of Divinity at Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, N.C.
Shahan left North Carolina in 2006 to become event/travel planner at Franklin Classical School, a private Christian K-12 school in Franklin, Tenn. He worked briefly as a consultant with Kimble Knight Ministries in Brentwood, Tenn., and for his own business, OneVine Inc., an Internet-based curriculum company, before joining the staff of First Baptist in Birmingham.
He wrote books, curriculum and articles over 30 years for publishers including Zondervan and LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Karen Louise Shahan was an active member of First Baptist Church who sang in the choir. She was described as a devoted Christian, supportive wife and loving mother and grandmother who was well-liked by co-workers at a local Hobby Lobby.
Police say her killer stabbed her with an unknown object and cut her throat. Richard Shahan told police he was out of town when the crime occurred, visiting the couple’s two adult children in Tennessee and Kentucky.
Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Laura Petro ruled Monday on two pre-trial motions and said she would decide five others at a later date. Shahan’s next court appearance is scheduled for May 7.