Drugs and duplicity: Shemorry to be sentenced, blames hit-man
Former Charlottesville realtor Patrick S. Shemorry may have pleaded guilty to hiring a hitman to kill his estranged wife, but a new 10-page pre-sentencing memo suggests the crime was a "complete aberration" from an otherwise respectable life and that blame should not fall on Shemorry alone when he is sentenced next week.
"Shemorry never sought out someone to kill his wife," states the December 2 federal filing by Shemorry's public defender, Andrea Harris, explaining that the key witness was less a hired hitman than a veteran conman–- one who "volunteered his services."
The witness–- known to Shemorry as Darius Hampton, but actually operating under a cousin's name–- was bad news, the filing alleges, from the moment Shemorry and his wife met him in February 2009 while the couple was seeking drugs during a trip to New Orleans.
As reported in a Hook cover story following Shemorry's September 22 plea hearing, Hampton falsely told Shemorry and and his wife, Starla Knight, that his fianc©e and children had been murdered and thereby won such sympathy from the couple that they invited him to move into their two bedroom condo on Jefferson Park Avenue.
Shemorry, who worked for Keller Williams Realty, would eventually be heard on audio saying, "It's a f***ing war, and she's just a casualty. Kill Starla; she's f***ing poison." His filing, however, paints a more benevolent picture.
The filing claims that Hampton is actually Michael Allen Terry, who deserves much blame for Shemorry's situation and that he engaged in numerous criminal acts including more than a dozen felony counts relating to the identity fraud. Terry is currently incarcerated at the Albemarle Charlottesville Regional Jail with a hearing scheduled for December 3 in Charlottesville General District Court. Efforts to reach him were unsuccessful.
After Shemorry and Starla Knight separated in April 2009, the filing alleges, Knight moved to New Orleans alone, leaving a "distraught" Shemorry back in Charlottesville with his ersatz friend Terry in the condo. It was Terry, the filing alleges, who first suggested the killing, allegedly calling Knight dangerous and evil.
While Shemorry declined to take out life insurance on his estranged wife, as Terry allegedly urged, Shemorry acknowledges that he "did eventually agree" to Terry's offer to kill her. At that point, the filing states, Terry began recording their conversations.
But despite already having tape-recorded evidence of a crime in progress, the filing points out, Terry didn't immediately contact authorities. It was only after he'd accepted Shemorry's $1,200 to travel to New Orleans to find Knight and had allegedly told her of Shemorry's plot that he contacted the FBI, who set him up with a hidden camera to use when he met with Shemorry to tell him the murderous plot had been a "success."
Although FBI videos show Shemorry receiving Terry's news of his wife's death with what appears to be grim "we did what we had to do" satisfaction, the filing claims Shemorry was actually "shattered" by the plot–- and that his remorse was evident in a written statement he gave at at the time of his arrest.
"I would rather be here writing this letter in hand cuffs not knowing my future," Shemorry wrote, "than to live with her death on my conscience." The Hook has been unable to reach Knight for comment on her husband's words and deeds.
The crime stunned not only Shemorry's friends and his colleagues, but also his family members. According to the filing, the 28-year-old Shemorry, the second of four children, had a normal childhood and enjoyed Scouting as well as camping and backpacking with his family. Following his high school graduation in 2000, he volunteered for a cancer clinic, enlisted in the Air Force, and married Knight in Williamsburg in 2004–- the same year he was convicted for two "minor use of drug" offenses, the only blemishes on an otherwise clean record.
According to the filing, Shemorry's family is "in shock" at the nature of the crime to which he has pleaded guilty. Reached at her home in Leavenworth, Washington, aunt Debbie Shemorry says the young man she knew wouldn't have committed this kind of crime.
"He was a joyful child and young adult; he just had a positive energy about him," she recalls. "He had a way with words and could tell a story like nobody else could."
Debbie Shemorry recalls a teenaged Patrick driving "four or five hours" with his older brother to visit her and her family soon after he'd received his driver's license. "He made the effort," she says, expressing difficulty reconciling the family-oriented teenager with the man who currently sits behind bars awaiting sentencing.
"It doesn't make sense," she says.
The filing, however, attempts to make some sense of it.
"Absent Terry's influence in Shemorry's life," it reads, "it is unlikely Shemorry would have committed this offense."
Citing his meager criminal history and statistics that depict an unlikely recidivist, Shemorry's filing requests nine years behind bars, one year less than the maximum provided in his plea agreement. Federal Judge Norman Moon will consider that request on December 9.