A Memphis, Tennessee jury has convicted Shelby Isaac of two counts of second degree murder. As the verdict was being read, Isaac took a visible gasp and fainted in the courtroom. The judge continued confirming the verdict as several lawyers tried to help her up.
Isaac was eighteen years old when prosecutors alleged she shot and killed a man, his girlfriend, and an unborn child she was carrying. Killed Were Eddie “EJ” Tate, Jr.; his girlfriend Edwina Thomas, and their unborn child. Thomas was six to eight weeks pregnant when she died, a medical examiner testified. That triggered Tennessee’s relatively new fetal homicide law, which we previously analyzed here. She was found guilty of negligent homicide as it related to the death of the unborn child.
During closing arguments, prosecutors told jurors that Isaac had a motive for the killing: she previously had bought hair extensions or hair weaves from Tate and wanted her money back. On the day of the murders, Isaac paid $250 for three hair weaves, which she purchased from Tate in a parking lot. Tate and his cousin operated a business which sold hair extensions. Isaac was inside the car for at least part of the transaction. Later, prosecutors say Isaac set up a second appointment with Tate and gunned him down in an apartment complex parking lot.
The state’s key witness, Victoria Seay, was the getaway driver. Seay claimed at several points that she saw Isaac pull the trigger, but in the past said she didn’t see gun. Defense attorneys reminded jurors that Seay admitted lying under oath. Witnesses reported seeing Seay’s car at the scene, but not Isaac. None of the five independent witnesses at the scene could pick Isaac out of a photo lineup. However, the state said a witness claimed to have seen Isaac put a gun down on her dresser and that she had a little bit of blood on her clothes after the murders.
Defense attorneys argued during closing arguments that Seay was the real killer and that Seay lied about Isaac’s involvement to draw attention away from herself. Seay was the first person arrested in the case. Her clothes were never tested by police. Some evidence was never photographed. Seay was arrested with blood on her boot leg and on the driver’s side of her car, the getaway car. There was no blood on the passenger seat where Isaac would have sat if Seay’s version of the events was correct, the defense argued. Seay had said Isaac walked through the crime scene, which prosecutors described as bloody.
During closing arguments, defense attorneys also said the case was about who was responsible for the crime, not about who died. They said that Isaac’s fingerprints on the car driven by the victims are easily explained by the earlier transaction for hair extensions. Further, the defense said phone records indicated Seay and Isaac were on the phone with one another several times when prosecutors claimed they were together in person.
During a rebuttal, prosecutors asked the jury to find the defendant guilty of all counts in the name of justice.
Isaac will return for sentencing December 15. She faces up to 25 years on the top count.