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Posted on Sun, Feb. 17, 2002

Youthful salesman's long regret
Convicted of murder, he now wishes he had listened to his mother

By Laura Emerson and Karen Balsley
The Journal Gazette

Troy Shaw had just graduated from Findlay High School in rural northwest Ohio when he was offered a chance to travel the country, make easy money and party every night.

The avid skateboarder jumped at the chance, thinking he could travel for a year before settling down to work in Ohio.

But now the 19-year-old lives in a cement cell with accused killers.

Last week, Shaw was convicted of murder in the beating death of 33-year-old Brett King, a crime of which he maintains he is not guilty.

Shaw is one of three traveling magazine salesmen charged with beating King to death on June 5, 2000, outside the Valu Lodge motel, 3527 Coliseum Blvd. W. in Fort Wayne.

Two members of the group that recruited Shaw five days before King's death have pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter. The Allen County Prosecutor's Office is considering charges against two others.

New River Subscription Service, the group Shaw and the others say they joined, claims it never employed Shaw or the others charged in King's death.

Attractive offer

On Wednesday, May 31, 2000, a young woman was knocking on doors in Findlay, Ohio, asking people whether they wanted to buy magazines.

Eighteen-year-old Troy Shaw recalled opening the door of his house to find a beautiful girl standing on his front porch. She wore a tube top and a scarf-like green skirt that exposed a pierced navel.

"C'mon in," said a boxer-clad Shaw, during an interview three weeks before his trial.

Once inside, she pulled out a joint and asked Shaw whether he wanted to smoke it with her.

When she found out he was 18, she got excited and asked whether he'd want to come sell magazines with her.

"You've got to come," she told him. "You've got to!"

She said they'd pay $25 a day, and they'd buy you a bus or plane ticket whenever you wanted to go home. You could see 50 states in 50 weeks, and the people would buy alcohol for you. To top it off, there were coed rooms, she said.

"I couldn't believe it!" Shaw said, his brown eyebrows raised above wide eyes. "And they'd give you money to do this!"

Shaw thought this would be his chance to see California, Las Vegas - all the places movies were made. Plus, there would be parties every night and amusement parks on the weekend.

"Let's go!" he told the girl, who told him her name was Christa Murley. Shaw went into his room and filled a backpack with enough clothes to last a week.

The girl assured him he could come back for his graduation ceremony - something he'd promised his mother. His mom was proud of him for finishing high school, he said, because she didn't get to. She was 18 when he was born.

When Natalie Shaw returned home about 5:30 p.m., she found her oldest son walking across the parking lot with an unfamiliar woman, carrying his clothes and a stereo.

"What are you doing?" Shaw's mom asked.

"I'm going to go sell magazines," Shaw replied.

Natalie Shaw begged him not to go, telling him she had a bad feeling about the whole thing.

The woman and others in the van told him not to listen to his mom, Shaw said.

"You're 18," the woman told him. "You can make your own decisions."

Golden opportunity

At first, it seemed like the greatest job in the world, Shaw said.

As soon as he got into the van, some guy began putting $20 bills in his hand.

Twelve of them. $240. Just for saying he wanted to sell magazines.

Within hours, they had taught Shaw how tell customers he was trying to earn money for college - a lie. Then, he was instructed to hand the customer a fake brochure listing how many points he earned for each magazine sale.

Although they told customers they were earning points, Shaw said no one kept track of points or how long someone worked. All that mattered was how many subscriptions you sold.

"You had to meet daily quota," he said. "If you didn't reach it, they'd fine you."

The group of 20 to 25 people, ages 17 to 30, would rise every morning about 7 a.m., have a meeting, eat breakfast, then drive around looking for a "good neighborhood" - one that had lots of rich people.

Once they found one, the vans would drop them off and arrange to pick them up later. At lunchtime, they'd brag about how much they'd sold and make bets on who could sell more that afternoon. Then, they'd hit another neighborhood.

About 6 p.m., they'd break for dinner.

For the first two weeks, workers would earn $25 a day, plus free food and lodging, he was told. It was strictly commission after that.

He couldn't understand why they were paying him so much money, especially since he knew nothing about sales.

After the day's work, everyone would go out and party, Shaw said.

"It was a lot of walking, but it's crazy as hell at night."

People in the group were smoking marijuana, he said. They made a "beer tree" every night, stacking empty beer cans against the wall.

On his second night, someone told him about a guy in the group who wanted to go home, but the bosses wouldn't let him.

"I thought it was just a ghost story, a fantasy," Shaw said.

Shaw asked his boss whether people ever got the magazines they subscribed to.

His boss replied: "That's none of your business," Shaw said. Then, his boss added, "I hope you didn't buy any."

In addition, the boss of the crew walked around with a cane, and if you said something stupid, he'd hit you with it, Shaw said.

Shaw said everyone knew he wanted to go back to Findlay for his high school graduation ceremony. Several in the group had promised to stand up for him when he crossed the stage, Shaw said.

But when it came time for them to leave Sandusky, Ohio, where they'd spent the day at Cedar Point amusement park, they didn't drive to Findlay. They drove to Fort Wayne instead.

Shaw said he didn't mind too much because people had been smoking marijuana and he had been drinking his own bottle of Jaegermeister - 70-proof liquor - that evening.

The fight

After leaving the amusement park, Shaw's group stopped at an off-track betting place near Sandusky for dinner and some drinks.

Some of the others showed Shaw how to bluff his way into getting served alcohol, even though he was 18.

About three hours later they arrived in Fort Wayne. It was about 2 a.m. Fort Wayne time on June 5, - 3 a.m. Ohio time. Part of the group was already there. Their crew leader, Eric Werczynski, had reserved a block of rooms for them at the Valu Lodge motel, 3527 Coliseum Blvd. W.

According to what police were told, two men entered their hotel room and found King - a man they didn't know - lying on the bed.

They punched King and chased him outside. The crew leader yelled "get him" at several employees who were still in the parking lot unloading the van.

Witnesses told officers several men chased King down a flight of stairs, across the motel's parking lot and into a rain-swollen ditch.

The men punched and kicked him, then left him lying unconscious in the ditch.

Brooks and Johnson admitted punching King several times with their fists, and Brooks said he kicked King in the stomach.

But Shaw kicked him in the head, repeatedly, long after King stopped moving, the pair testified.

Johnson, 26, demonstrated for jurors, taking several running steps and swinging his right foot at an imaginary target.

Brooks, 19, said Shaw kicked King in the face like he was scoring a field goal.

"He kept kicking him," Brooks testified. "That's when I left. The fight was over."

Shaw denied that, saying he exchanged a few punches with King on the motel stairway, nothing more. Then, he went upstairs and passed out on the bed, Shaw testified.

King was found dead the following morning, his head submerged in the water.

Originally, police charged Shaw and Benjamin D. Brooks, 18, of Churchill, Tenn., with aggravated battery in King's death. In October 2001, they also filed an aggravated battery charge against Steven Johnson, 26, of Berkley, W. Va.

Prosecutors upped Shaw's charge to murder in December, stating they had obtained new evidence.

After the trial, special deputy prosecutor Richard Beers said jurors reached the correct verdict. They had the option of finding Shaw guilty of involuntary manslaughter, a lesser offense with a maximum sentence of eight years.

King's brother, who drove from Indianapolis for the three-day trial, said Brooks and Johnson admitted what they had done. Shaw did not, Brian King said.

"Everybody knows Troy Shaw was lying," King said after the verdict was returned about 10:45 p.m. Wednesday. "It was clear and I think the jury recognized that."

King's grandmother, who sat through the entire trial, said she has forgiven Shaw and feels compassion for him.

"He made a mistake," Jacqueline Carey said.

But at least Shaw still has his life, she said.

Her grandson doesn't, and her great-grandson lost his father at age 7.

Both Brooks and Johnson have pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and apologized to the King family in court.

Plea agreements call for them to serve 2 1/2 years in prison.

At sentencing in March, Shaw faces 45 to 65 years behind bars.


Before his trial, Shaw said he just wished he could go back home to his mom, his two kid brothers, and the job he had with his dad in Findlay.

During an interview in December, Natalie Shaw pulled out a middle school-age photo of her son that showed him with straight brown hair to his shoulders. It was the face of a kid who wrestled with his brothers, played Nintendo games until dawn and loved having fun.

Shaw says his mom taught him not to drink. And if she caught him smoking cigarettes, he'd have to eat them, Shaw said. He never tested that theory.

"Mom was strict," he said.

During a recent visit with his mom, Shaw asked what she saw when she looked across the glass that separates visitors from inmates at the Allen County Jail.

Natalie Shaw began to cry.

"It kills me to see you across the glass," she said.

Shaw said he tried to hold back the emotions he felt.

"I got this sensation in my chest, like it's gonna cave in," Shaw said.

Jail officials placed him on suicide watch after he was jailed in December. Shaw says he didn't eat. Didn't shave. Couldn't sleep. Didn't belong there.

He asked himself what would happen if he didn't exist.

"My mom told me not to think like that," Shaw said.

After being convicted of murder late Wednesday night, Shaw exploded in an emotional outburst.

"Why don't they just kill me?" he wailed, as four guards tried to escort him out of the courtroom. "I didn't do it! I'm worthless now."

During the Jan. 30 interview, Shaw recalled how his mom tried to stop him from leaving, that May day nearly two years ago.

"I thought she was trying to hold me back from being an adult," Shaw said. He remembers telling her: "Mom, I can make good choices."

Shaw gets quiet. He looks down at his hands, clad in silver handcuffs.

"My mom wasn't there," he said. "She would have seen right through it."

Now he urges everyone to listen to what their mothers say.

"If your mom tells you she has a feeling about it, listen to her," Shaw said. "She's right."

He wants his brothers, who are both in high school, to realize that first decisions aren't always the best decisions.

"I learned it the hard way," Shaw said. "A mother's intuition is always right."

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