Transwoman to be Incarcerated in Special Transgender Prison
[NEWPORT, NH] ? Joseph Shanley, a transsexual woman who shot her sister to death in their Claremont home in October 2001, was sentenced to 22 years to life in prison for the murder.
Wearing a powder-blue prison outfit and a pony-tail, Shanley stood quietly as the sentence was read by Sullivan County Superior Court Judge Robert Morrill on Thursday morning.
Under a special agreement with the prosecution, the 66-year-old Shanley, who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, will be sent to a special transgender prison out of state. The closest state with such a prison is Connecticut.
If prison authorities cannot make arrangements for an out-of-state transfer, Shanley will be sent to the State Prison for women in Goffstown. In the meantime, Shanley will be held alone in the special housing unit of the men's prison in Concord, where she has been held since Oct. 5 after being transferred from the Sullivan County Jail in Unity.
Shanley, who now calls herself "Jo Shanley," shot her 68-year-old sister, Ann Cavanaugh, formerly of Milford and Nashua, five times on Oct. 4, 2001, in the Claremont retirement home they purchased together only four weeks before. Deciding that their arrangement was not working, Shanley and Cavanaugh had placed the 2 Ledgewood Drive house on the market before the murder.
The ranch-style home in an upper middle class neighborhood has been sold since the killing. Cavanaugh's son, Stephen Cavanaugh of Nashua, won an uncontested $215,254 wrongful death lawsuit in July against Shanley and will receive any proceeds from the house sale.
Stephen Cavanaugh agreed with the 22-year to life murder sentence handed down Thursday, Assistant Attorney General Jeff Strelzin said. Stephen Cavanaugh chose not to speak at the sentencing.
Shanley's attorney, Keene-based public defender Janice Peterson, read a statement from the killer expressing her regret.
"I'm sorry I ever took even one drink of alcohol in my life. I'm sorry I ever owned or even saw a firearm. I'm sorry I'm so fearful of everything. I hope one day we will meet in heaven and I'll be able to tell her how sorry I am and ask her forgiveness," Shanley's statement read. "I'm truly sorry I shortened the life of someone who could at times be a wonderful person and friend."
On the day of the murder, real estate agents and a prospective buyer walked into the house shortly after hearing "popping sounds." They left after a drunk and disheveled Shanley told them "it wasn't a good time."
One of the agents saw Cavanaugh laying face down on the floor, but did not realize she had been shot. Embarrassed and thinking they had walked in on a domestic dispute, they left. Upon leaving, they allegedly heard more popping sounds.
Shanley at first claimed to have left the house and returned later to find her sister dead, but police thought otherwise. While police were investigating, Shanley attempted to flee toward Vermont. Police arrested her after a brief chase.
Cavanaugh was a Milford resident and worked for about 10 years at the Temple Street Superette in Nashua where a loyal following came to consider her a friend. She gained some recognition in 1997 after beating back a would-be robber with a baseball bat.
Shanley lived in Billerica, Mass., and worked as a machinist. At work, she presented herself as a man, but changed to woman's clothing and persona at home and when socializing, according to a motion she filed with Sullivan County Superior Court in Newport, asking to be placed in a woman's prison.
Shanley asked to be placed in a women's prison for safety reasons. A doctor examined Shanley after the murder and confirmed that she has female genitalia.
Shanley became a female with a sex change operation in 1969. He traveled to Casablanca in the North African nation of Morocco for the operation and returned to the United States as a woman.
The last murder in this 14,000-person old mill community was in 1997 and involved two intoxicated men fist-fighting, said Claremont Deputy Police Chief William Wilmot. It is known in town as the "one-punch" killing.
"A murder in Claremont is a big event that happens rarely," he said. The majority of police time is spent on fighting drug abuse, criminal mischief and alcohol-related crimes, he said.
Shanley's transgender persona had little to do with the police investigation, but does add an odd element to the case, Wilmot said. "I guess this case will always have a little asterisk attached to it."
While the murder attracted media coverage from across the state, most of those interviewed on the Claremont streets Thursday had little knowledge of the case or just shrugged off the tabloid-style headlines.
Some said that the case hasn't sparked much talk in town simply because the murderer and victim were new to this community on the eastern banks of the Connecticut River. Others said there was a lot of talk about the murder for a few days in October 2001, but after all the facts were out, the gossip died down. Others said such crimes are just a part of life in the United States.
"Things like this happen all over the country. They just happen a little less often in Claremont," said Katrina Therrien, a lifelong resident of the city.