Original article no longer available
The Houston Chronicle
March 23, 2007
By ED COX of the Chronicle
Family members bitter over plea bargain, while defense tells of lifelong abuse
Amid angry words from her victim’s family and friends and expressions of profound regret on her part, Nailah Najah Shamsid-Deen, Heather Andersen’s killer, was sentenced to 20 years in prison yesterday.
Under a plea agreement between defense attorney John Olson and Wasco County District Attorney Eric Nisley, Judge John Kelly sentenced Shamsid-Deen to 239 months for first-degree manslaughter and one consecutive month for unauthorized use of a motor vehicle.
Addressing Shamsid-Deen in court, family members of the victim, including her mother and father, expressed little satisfaction with the predetermined sentence.
Heather’s father, Les Anderson, expressed a wish that Shamsid-Deen receive the death penalty, even though that went against all religious instruction he had ever received, “In your case, I’d make an exception happily.”
Jenie Shilling who laid a picture of Andersen, her daughter, on the desk beside her said, “Your manslaughter plea of 20 years is a disgrace to my daughter,” noting that since Andersen was 20 when she was murdered, Shamsid-Deen was receiving only one year for each year of her victim’s life.
Shilling recalled dealing with Andersen’s fear of the “boogey-man” as a little girl, and how she had reassured her daughter that he didn’t exist and that no one would hurt her only to be unable to protect her from her killer years later.
“I lied to my Heather,” she told Shasmid-Deen. “There is a boogey-man out there, and you’re it. You’re a danger to society.”
The defense’s Olson recounted for the judge and the audience Shamsid-Deen’s life history, a sordid tale of parental neglect, sexual abuse, rape and ensuing pregnancy that led to diagnosed mental problems including a dissociative disorder for which she was hospitalized but was only now receiving adequate care.
Olson said there are “not cracks, but canyons” in the mental health care system, and that Shamsid-Deen “fell into one of those canyons.”
According to Olson, at the time of the killing, Shamsid-Deen was taking Effexor, a drug used to treat depressive disorders, but was rationing her medication for lack of funds. He noted that rapid withdrawal from that drug has been found to be associated with suddent, impulsive, and violent reactions that are otherwise uncharacteristic of the individual.
Saying Shamsid-Deen was accountable for her actions, he nonetheless noted that “perhaps this tragedy could have been avoided if she had received appropriate… care before the events rather than after.”
There was little sympathy for these extenuating circumstances from family members of the victim.
“So what if God dealt you a raw deal,” Jenie Shilling said. “You don’t kill your friend over it.” Shilling said Shamsid-Deen became obsessed with her daughter, who befriended her and took her into her apartment, and would have killed her “one way or the other.”
Addressing the court and the victim’s family, Shamsid-Deen expressed remorse for her actions, saying, “I committed a deplorable act for which I am still struggling to comprehend.”
“I’m sorry,” she said multiple times before adding, “This didn’t need to happen. It could have been avoided. I tried…to get help.”
According to the terms of the sentence, Shamsid-Deen would be eligible for no reductions for the first 120 months and for earned time credits after that. Shilling and her husband, John Shilling, both requested the court require Shamsid-Deen to make restitution by paying into Andersen’s memorial scholarship fund.
Judge Kelly said he was not at liberty to impose that requirement, since it was not included in the plea bargain, which he considered binding. Still, he suggested that Shamsid-Deen might make a voluntary contribution if she had any funds.