Killing Tyler Shanabarger

When six-month-old Tyler Shanabarger was found dead in his crib on June 20, 1999, the doctors conducting an autopsy on the body concluded that he had been a victim of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.  Though Tyler's mother Amy was devastated by the death, her husband, 30-year-old Ronald L. Shanabarger showed little emotion and, just two days after Tyler's funeral, he finally told Amy why.  Not only had Ronald suffocated his infant son, but it was part of a long-planned revenge scheme dating back to before they were even married.

Ronald's plan for revenge began in 1996 following his father's death.   Though he and Amy had been steadily dating, she had been away on a cruise and had refused to cut her trip short to return home and comfort him in his time of grief.   Ronald decided to punish Amy by marrying her, getting her pregnant, and, after she had become emotionally bonded to their baby, to kill that baby to make her feel the same grief that he had.    On the evening of June 19, he walked into the nursery in the Franklin, Indiana home, placed plastic wrap around Tyler's head and face and then left the room to get something to eat.  Twenty minutes later, he returned to remove the plastic and place the body face down in the crib.  Amy had been working at her job as a cashier at the time and only discovered her son's body the following morning (which was Father's Day, ironically enough).  

After calling in the police, Ronald begged the arresting officers to shoot him though he was later taken into custody without incident.  He filed an affidavit confirming all the details he had confessed to Amy and was then charged with murder.   Police had little problem building a case against him given his repeatedly confessing to the killing, not only to police but also to his sister and brother-in-law when they visited him in prison.   He even wrote numerous letters to Amy admitting his guilt, all of which were used against him in court.   According to Ronald Shanabarger, he had deliberated waited to kill Tyler until he was old enough to roll over on his own, thereby allowing him to made it look like he died of SIDS.   As for why he  confessed, he said that he had been haunted by images of Tyler's dead face.

Based on his confessions, police seized pieces of cellophane paper that were found in his yard though they were unable to verify that Tyler had been killed the way Ronald claimed.   Though there was no question that he had died of asphyxiation, the actual cause was never determined.   Not that this made a real difference given Ronald's repeated confessions.  Even before the case came to trial, many people reported being struck by his strange behaviour.   During a preliminary hearing, when asked if he had money to hire his own attorney, Ronald simply said, "I don't know.  I'd have to ask my wife."  After the judge pointed out that Amy would be unlikely to help him pay for his defense, he was assigned a public defender.

Police department chaplain Randy Maynard was also open about how shaken he was after meeting with the defendant.    Along with being clinically depressed while awaiting trial (he was placed on suicide watch at one point), Ronald openly complained about all the things he had lost:  his job, his wife, his house, his money, and his friends.    Maynard then pointed out that he had lost Tyler as well to which Ronald replied, "Oh yeah.  I lost the boy too."    It was then that Maynard terminated the interview.  "That was it for me.  He said the wrong thing.  I was out of there," he said later. 

After a lengthy delay, including attempts by Ronald's lawyers to have the confessions thrown out due to questions about his mental state, the trial finally began on early 2002 and lasted for nine days.  Tyler's mother (who had long since divorced Ronald) and her father attended the complete trial.   The prosecution based their entire case on Ronald's confessions and testimony from Amy and other family members.  They also played a recording of Ronald confessing to the murder for the benefit of the jury.  As for Ronald's public defenders, Jay Hoffman and Jennifer Auger, they attempted to prove that Tyler had actually died of SIDS and, when that failed, argued that Ronald was mentally retarded and that Amy was actually responsible for killing Tyler to cash in on a life insurance policy.   Neither of these arguments had much effect and finally, on May 8, 2002, Ronald was convicted of murder.   On hearing this verdict, he was heard to mutter, "I'm shocked, I'm just shocked."   

All that remained was to determine the sentence.   Since Ronald had already confessed, he was spared the death penalty though prosecutors pushed for a life sentence.   On June 13, he was sentenced to 49 years in prison.   In handing down this sentence, the presiding judge said he based his decision on Ronald's lack of prior convictions, diminished mental capacity, and the extraordinary circumstances of the case.   That wasn't enough for Amy and her father however, who both publicly criticized the sentence.   Amy Parsons was heard to mutter "Happy Father's Day" to Ronald as he was led out of the courtroom while her father said that he hoped Ronald burned in hell.  

Nothing more was heard about the case until 2006 when Ronald's new attorney, Amy Kazaros, filed an appeal of his sentence citing various legal errors made by his previous lawyers.   She also made claims about juror misconduct and the failure of his lawyers to object to much of the evidence presented but all of these arguments were thrown out by a three-judge panel that eventually upheld Ronald's conviction.  

Ronald L. Shanabarger remains in prison and, according to available records, is eligible for release as early as 2023.   As for Amy Parsons, she continues to move on with her life.  In 2003, the Tyler Memorial Fountain and Pond was formally opened at Independence Park in Franklin, Indiana.  Amy and her father were both present at the opening ceremony. 

           

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