By Bob Allen
An Alabama Baptist minister arrested New Year’s Day while trying to leave the country has been released from jail in Nashville, Tenn., and is on his way to Alabama to face charges of murdering his wife at the couple’s home in July.
The Davidson County Sheriff’s Office online inmate database reported that 53-year-old Richard Shahan, admitted to jail at 10:53 p.m. on Jan. 1, was released at 12:04 p.m. on Jan. 8. He is now in custody of authorities in Jefferson County, Alabama, where he is expected to arrive later today.
Shahan, who waived extradition at a hearing Tuesday, is charged with murder in the July 23 stabbing death of Karen Shahan, 52, at the house in Homewood, Ala., that the couple rented from First Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. Shahan served the church as children and families pastor and facilities director until resigning recently to head a three-year overseas mission in Germany and Kazakhstan.
Homeland Security officials arrested Shahan as he prepared to board a flight to Germany and held him without bond as a fugitive. Police in Birmingham said if he had made it out of the country it is unlikely he could have been forced to return to the United States to face charges.
Attorneys for Shahan said police staged the drama of an airport arrest to make their client appear guilty. Shahan, who denies involvement in his wife’s death, was held for 48 hours in August for investigative purposes but released without charges. A warrant for his arrest wasn’t issued until Dec. 31.
Police have been tight-lipped about the investigation from the beginning, and they aren’t saying much about what has changed since they first questioned Shahan in August. The Homewood police chief has said that inconsistencies in interviews kept leading detectives back to Shahan. He indicated that police have established a motive and have physical evidence.
The circumstances of the arrest helped propel it to a national news story. In a Jan. 5 report on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” legal analyst Dan Abrams said a key question is whether Jan. 1 was always his planned date for departure.
“His defense is, ‘I had long been planning to take this trip,’ and it’s been on their Facebook page, their website, saying that he was going to be taking a trip,” Abrams said. “Even back in November they said that.
“The question is, was he going to be taking this trip on Jan. 1 and then the authorities issued an arrest warrant on Dec. 31? Or was it the opposite: that authorities issued the arrest warrant on Dec. 31 and then lo and behold it’s Jan. 1 and he says, ‘I’ve got to get out of here.’ Now his claim is that he didn’t even know that there was an arrest warrant out for him, and that’s why he was so surprised. There are a lot of questions here that are yet to be answered.”
Shahan’s pastor, FBC Birmingham interim Pastor Charles Carter, says he doesn’t know all the facts but he tends to believe that Shahan is innocent. He strongly disputes claims that Shahan was trying to flee, saying his plans to lead a children’s ministry in Kazakhstan had been known and publicized since early November and the church held a public commissioning service for him on Dec. 29.
“At my suggestion early on he received a written statement from his legal counsel that in their opinion he was free to leave/return to the USA,” Carter told the Alabama Baptist. “He was not fleeing; he was en route to assume a new position as a missionary.”