Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Death of Innocence - The Murder of Young Shanda Sharer

Shattered Lives

On December 14, 1992, the opening day of the sentencing hearing for Melinda Loveless, television trucks lined the street outside the Jefferson County Courthouse. The courtroom was packed with reporters, onlookers, and family members from both sides. As the session began, prosecutor Guy Townsend described to the court in vivid detail the events of Sharer's abduction, torture and murder. Over the next several days Toni Lawrence, Laurie Tackett and several friends and acquaintances of Loveless were called to testify against her. Townsend also called Donn and Ralph Foley, Sheriff Shipley, Detective Henry, Sergeant Wells, Dr. George Nichols and several members of Sharer's family.

Shanda at age 9
Shanda at age 9

In the end, the most compelling and heart wrenching testimony came from Shanda's mother, Jackie Vaught. She began with a video, which was a collection of photographs of Shanda at different stages in her life. As the tape played, Vaught narrated the photos. Following her presentation, she read a previously written statement to the courtroom running approximately 45 minutes.

"It has obviously shattered all of our lives. I speak for all of us when I say I don't think there is anything worse than burying your own child.

"I can't control my emotions most of the time, and I cry because I want my baby back. I want her home for Christmas this year, but I can't have her. This year I didn't get to buy Shanda any presents. There are no presents for her under my tree.

"Melinda has cheated me out of being with my daughter during this life. It is my wish for you [Melinda] that you live your life with memories of her screams and the sight of her burned and mutilated body. I'm not sure who you love most in life, Melinda, whether it be your mother or your father, but I want you to imagine them in the trunk of that car. I want you to imagine the person you love the most begging and screaming for their life. I want you to imagine that person being the person lying on the ground who was burned and mutilated. Maybe then, and I doubt this seriously, you could feel a small portion of the pain our family feels. The proper punishment for Melinda would be to place her in a cell with pictures of Shanda's burned body and force her to continually listen to a tape of my daughter screaming like she did that night.

"I hope and pray you remember these words for the rest of your life. May you rot in hell."

At the conclusion of Vaught's testimony, Judge Todd announced that he would wait until after Laurie Tackett's sentencing hearing to pronounce both girls' sentences.

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