Appeal denied for Georgiana man convicted of murder

Published 1:49 pm Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The conviction of a Butler County man for the 2012 murder of a 72-year-old woman has been upheld by the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals.

Shawn McClain, 31, pleaded guilty in August of 2015 to the murder and rape of Dorothy Leatherwood. The Georgiana native was sentenced to consecutive life sentences for murder and first-degree rape. He is eligible for parole.

“We reached this agreement with the blessing of the family,” Butler County District Attorney Charlotte Tesmer said following McClain’s sentencing in August. “They were ready to at least have this chapter of their lives closed.”

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Tesmer said despite the confession, had the case gone to trial a jury could have found McClain innocent.

“He could have walked,” she said. “With this deal, he’ll go to prison for life and it will be a number of years before he’s eligible for parole, and when he is, we’ll be there to fight it.”

McClain was indicted by a Butler County grand jury for capital murder in March of 2013 after being charged with the murder of Leatherwood, who was found stabbed to death in her home on Nov. 14, 2012.

The state could not seek the death penalty, but McClain would have received a mandatory life sentence without the chance of parole if found guilty of capital murder. Second Judicial Circuit Court Judge Terri Bozeman Lovell had found McClain ineligible for the death penalty due to mental deficiencies.

Dr. Karl Kirkland, a psychologist and forensic examiner, previously testified that it is his opinion that McClain falls in the range of mild mental retardation.

“I’d say he falls on the lower end of the range,” Kirkland said.

Kirkland testified that his evaluation revealed that McClain has an IQ of 53, and that his reading level was on par with that of a kindergartner, while his reading comprehension ability was equal to that of a second grader.

An average IQ score falls in the range of 85 to 114.

During a preliminary hearing, the Butler County District Attorney’s Office and the Butler County Sheriff’s Office focused on DNA evidence that they say tied McClain to the murder.

BCSO investigator Sean Klaetsch testified that authorities had found a gray T-shirt stained with what appeared to be blood in a clothes hamper in McClain’s bedroom. The shirt was sent to the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences for testing.

“The test revealed that the blood on the shirt was that of Dorothy Leatherwood and that the shirt also had DNA on it belonging to McClain,” Klaetsch said.

Klaetsch said deputies also discovered an envelope with a note written on it on a side table in the living room of Leatherwood’s home that referenced money. He also stated that witnesses had informed authorities that McClain at times worked odd jobs for Leatherwood. The envelope was sent off to a handwriting expert, along with a sample of McClain’s handwriting, and the expert offered the opinion that the note was written by McClain, according to Klaetsch.

Authorities said that while being interviewed, McClain confessed to being inside Leatherwood’s home and pulling a knife on her, but that he had “blacked out” and did not remember anything after that.

McClain sought to have his guilty plea convictions reversed on appeal.

The Attorney General’s Criminal Appeals Section handled the case during the appeals process, arguing for the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals to affirm the convictions. The court did so in a decision issued on Friday.