By Bob Allen
An Alabama Baptist minister charged with murder in his wife’s July slaying waived an initial court appearance Feb. 5. The case against him now is headed toward a grand jury.
Attorneys for Richard Shahan, former children and families pastor and facilities director at First Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., said they waived a preliminary hearing before Jefferson County District Judge Sheldon Watkins because the case would be turned over to a grand jury whether or not testimony was presented in court.
Shahan, 53, who remains on house arrest after posting a $100,000 bond, is accused of fatally stabbing his wife, Karen Shahan, in the couple’s rented home on or about July 23. He was arrested New Year’s Day at an airport in Tennessee while trying to board a flight bound for Germany.
Prosecutors say Shahan wanted to move overseas and marry another man. Shahan’s lawyers say he had been planning a mission trip for months and would have turned himself in if asked.
Shahan claims he was out of town visiting family when his wife was found dead in the home they rented from First Baptist Church after friends became concerned when she failed to show up for work.
Shahan, who had been on staff since 2009, was placed on administrative leave. He resigned in December after announcing plans to travel overseas for three years of mission work in Germany and Kazakhstan.
Authorities in Alabama issued a warrant for his arrest Dec. 31. The following day an airport computer at Nashville International Airport flagged his passport, and he was taken into custody by Homeland Security.
Shahan’s attorneys say their client didn’t know he was wanted for arrest, and if he had they would have advised him to turn himself in. They accused prosecutors of staging the arrest as a publicity stunt to bolster a weak case by making it appear that he was trying to flee.
Already widely reported by media across the country and overseas, the story grew even more sensationalized during a Jan. 16 bond hearing, when prosecutors alleged that Shahan concocted the three-year mission trip story as cover so he could get out of the country, after which he intended to marry his boyfriend and start a new life in the United Kingdom.
The grand jury will decide if the evidence against Shahan is enough to warrant an indictment. If indicted, he would be arraigned and entitled to a jury trial.