Vilsack act of mercy in abused woman's murder case earns kudos in Defiance

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Many residents of the tiny town of Defiance agree with Gov. Tom Vilsack's decision to commute the sentence of a local woman convicted of killing her husband.

Dixie Shanahan Duty, 39, will be eligible for parole after 10 years in prison with Vilsack's act. Her initial sentence was 50 years for second-degree murder.

Duty shot her husband, Scott Shanahan in the back of the head in 2002 and left his decomposing body in the master bedroom of their home for 14 months.

She was sent to prison in 2004 and is serving her time at the womans' prison in Mitchellville.

Many residents of Defiance, a town of 300 people about 90 miles northwest of Des Moines, agree she should have a chance for early release.

"I think most of the town agrees with it," said Ron Arkfeld, a farmer who used to do odd jobs for the Shanahan family. "I think most people feel sorry for her."

People do not believe she will pose a threat when she's released. Many believe she was justified in shooting her husband, who Duty said had been abusive for years.

Charlene Carl said it was a case of "necessary manslaughter."

"No one blames her for it," said Carl, who adds that her own children loved when Duty baby-sat them. "If I were her, I would have shot him sooner," she said.

Carl said many in Defiance knew Scott Shanahan beat his wife, though she tried to cover many bruises, black eyes and split lips.

Shanahan was prosecuted three times for domestic abuse in Shelby County. Court documents indicate that Scott Shanahan dragged his wife by her hair, tied her to the basement furnace, kicked her pregnant belly and punched her in the face.

Those documents also say that in August 2002 Duty told her husband she was pregnant for the third time and that he demanded she have an abortion. When she refused, he threatened to kill her and the baby.

On Aug. 30, Duty testified, she took her 7-year-old son to school, returned home to another beating, and then, instead of leaving her husband, she shot him.

"When she closed the door, she closed that chapter of her life," Carl said.

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