Norrell Informant to be Tried for Child Molestation
The former fire captain who reportedly gave police information on Lisa Norrell's murder will face a civil trial next month.
A former Antioch fire captain who reportedly gave investigators information on Lisa Norrell's November 1998 murder (see CASE) in exchange for the dropping of criminal child molestation charges against him will face a civil trial on those allegations in a Contra Costa County court next month.
Police arrested Duanne Dee Shoemake, 55, in September 1998 on five felony counts of molestation. He was accused of sexually abusing two girls to whom he is related. But even after a Contra Costa County Superior Court judge ruled there was ample evidence to take the criminal case to trial, the District Attorney's office dropped all charges against Shoemake on January 11.
Sources close to the criminal case say the charges were dismissed because Shoemake supplied information on the killing of Norrell, the Pittsburg teenager whose body was found in an industrial area near the border of Pittsburg and Antioch last November. At the time, Shoemake's niece was married to David Michael Heneby (See SUBJECTS), then the primary suspect in the Norrell investigation. Police arrested Heneby in connection with the murder on January 6, only to release him the next day due to insufficient evidence.
Almost a year has passed since Norrell's murder, which devastated Pittsburg (See CITY), a largely working-class town of 54,117 in northeastern Contra Costa County. Investigators have made little progress in solving the case.
Prosecutors have the option of re-filing criminal charges against Shoemake at a later date, but that seems unlikely. "The D.A. told me no, the charges would not be re-filed," said one of the mothers of the girls Shoemake allegedly molested. (Her name is withheld here to protect her daughter's identity (See ETHICS).) The second girl's mother declined to comment.
Deputy District Attorney Brian Haynes declined to comment on the dropped charges. "Shoemake's case is still involved with an ongoing homicide investigation," he said.
At first, the girls' mothers accepted the dismissal of the felony charges against Shoemake with equanimity, hoping the barter would lead to an arrest and conviction in the Norrell murder.
"If an arrest was going to be made, and if Lisa Norrell's parents would be able to sleep at night, then maybe I could deal with it," said one of the mothers. "But as far as I can see, nothing good has come of it. The Norrells don't know who killed their daughter, our girls have suffered, and [Shoemake] is still walking free."
Frustrated, the women filed a civil suit against Shoemake and his wife on June 30, 1999, seeking unspecified monetary damages for the girls' pain and suffering. Shoemake faces 15 charges, ranging from continuous sexual abuse of a child to intentional infliction of emotional distress. His wife, Linda Shoemake, who is accused of knowing about the abuse and attempting to conceal it, is charged with negligence.
Since the girls came forward, Shoemake has resigned from his 27-year post as a captain in the Contra Costa County fire department. He was a deacon at Harvest Time Assembly of God in Brentwood, but a spokesman for the church said Shoemake is no longer a member.
"This has split up the family, and split up the church," said the mother about the molestation allegations.
She found out about the alleged abuse when her daughter told her the second girl had confided in county social workers. "I asked her if she believed her and she said, 'yes.' My heart just dropped," said the mother. "It took her another week to come forward and tell me it had been happening to her too."
Shoemake's successor at Antioch Fire Station No.88, Captain Robert H. Crawford, said that within the department, the reaction to the charges was general disbelief. He said he has known Shoemake a long time, and described him as a religious man with strong family values.
"It's hard to believe a person of that character can be involved in the kind of things he was accused of. Until there is evidence to the contrary, I tend to believe in his innocence," said Crawford.
Larry E. Cook, the Walnut Creek attorney who represents the girls, said, "It was not for lack of evidence that they dropped the criminal charges." Cook believes prosecutors dismissed the case because Shoemake gave them information that would lead directly to an arrest in the Norrell murder. But ten months have since passed, and no new suspects have been named.
Although plea bargaining often results in reduced sentences, Cook said it is highly unusual for felony charges to be dropped altogether. Judge John M. Allen, who presided over Shoemake's December criminal hearing, thought the case was too strong to be dismissed. According to court records (See RECORDS), he added another count to the charges, ruling there was "sufficient cause to believe Duanne Shoemake is guilty."
Cook wonders if there is another reason prosecutors dismissed Shoemake's case. "It's not lost on me that he's the fire chief," he said. Like the mother, Cook wishes the district attorneys had been able to use Shoemake's information. "You make a deal like that and you need to have some return. The proof's in the pudding," he said. "They let a child molester off and got nothing for it." Shoemake, reached at his home in Oakley, refused to comment.
Shoemake's trial begins November 17 in Contra Costa County Superior Court in Martinez. If found guilty, Shoemake would be liable for financial damages, but would not receive a jail sentence or be registered as a sex offender.
Still, the mother hopes the trial "will prove justice."
"That's all we want," she said. "The girls have gone through a lot."