Prosecutors opened a trial Thursday in a decade-old murder case originally ruled a suicide with an image of the deceased woman’s boyfriend, then a graphic image of the fatal gunshot wound to the head that killed her.
Shaun Leflore, now 35, was arrested in 2013 and charged with the 2006 murder of his girlfriend, Chantel Hollowell, after police in Riverside, California, contacted Metro with information on Leflore’s charge of assault of another woman in 2010.
Hollowell’s death was investigated as a suicide after Leflore told police he watched Hollowell shoot herself. Prosecuting attorney Leah Beverly said Thursday the original case was closed in two to three hours after police interviewed Leflore and a neighbor whose house Leflore was moving into.
In 2010, police re-examined forensic evidence, leading them to note blood-spatter patterns that indicated Leflore shot Hollowell.
The 2013 arrest report said Leflore moved to Las Vegas with Hollowell and pimped her out as a prostitute.
That report says Hollowell’s family and friends told police that Leflore abused Hollowell and that she wanted to leave him and attend classes at UNLV.
‘Everything was going well’
Beverly described Hollowell as a bright young woman with no history of suicide attempts, other than an incident drinking nail polish when she was 13. “She was going through some things with her biological father and stepfather,” Beverly said.
Hollowell graduated from high school with top honors and attended California State University, Long Beach on a scholarship.
“Everything was going well in Chantel’s life until she met the defendant,” Beverly said, describing Leflore as an abusive and manipulative boyfriend who acted as Hollowell’s pimp and made her support him.
Leflore’s defense team painted Hollowell as a young woman who had gone through traumatizing events as a young girl, including repeated sexual molestation and a genetically inherited predisposition for mental illness that manifested in a psychotic episode in April 2006.
Defense attorney Nancy Lemcke played the calls to 911 Leflore made after Hollowell’s death. He could be heard hysterically shouting, “She shot herself,” over and over.
When Leflore’s police interview was played, he hunkered down in his chair and rubbed his eyes, crying quietly while listening to his own voice describe how they had broken up before her death but were still living and sleeping together.
Lemcke used a graphic of a table with many blocks placed on it, including those labeled “adverse childhood experiences,” “serious mental illness” and “recent self-harm” to demonstrate the pressure Hollowell supposedly felt before her death.
“She is doing anything she can to hold onto him,” Lemcke said.
‘I thought he was getting ready to kill me’
Prosecutors first called Vanessa Ramos, Hollowell’s childhood best friend in California and later an escort in Las Vegas to the stand.
Ramos described Hollowell in the days before her death as happy and full of life; having just turned 21, she was “just enjoying her life.”
Ramos also testified that Hollowell was dating someone else in the days before her death.
Another witness, Safiyah Attar, previously referred to as Sophia Johnson, recounted how she discovered Leflore was carrying on a simultaneous relationship with Hollowell while he dated her in California and Florida.
Though Attar said she left Leflore after living with him and his mother in California, he followed her back to Florida.
In an incident soon after, Attar said he beat and threatened to kill her with a gun to her temple after she confronted him about phone records showing he was calling Hollowell in California.
She said she heard him cock the gun. “I thought he was getting ready to kill me,” Attar said.
The trial continues Friday.