McCONNELSVILLE – Minutes before being sentenced to 105 years in prison Wednesday, the former Stockport mayor accused of raping a young relative reasserted that he is guiltless in the situation.
“I would like to say I fully respect the jury’s decision, but I maintain my innocence,” said 39-year-old Michael “Shane” Shuster.
Throughout an early April trial, Shuster and Athens-based defense counsel Rick Hedges painted the defendant as a loving family man, who could not possibly have committed the six years of sexual abuse alleged by the victim. The allegations, they said, were a tale spun by an angry teenager, upset over the authoritative role Shuster played in her life.
Morgan County Prosecutor Mark Howdyshell and attorney Marianne Hemmeter with the state Attorney General’s office countered that Shuster was a charismatic manipulator who wielded rewards and freedom over the child in return for her quiet submission to his sexual advances.
Seven weeks ago, a Morgan County jury sided with prosecutors, finding Shuster guilty on six counts of rape, seven counts of sexual battery and eight counts of gross sexual imposition for actions that started in 2006 when the girl would have been 10.
Acting Judge John Nau of Noble County Common Pleas Court reiterated the jury’s finding Wednesday, calling Shuster a dangerous man.
“When I sat through this trial, quite frankly, I find no remorse whatsoever by this defendant,” said Nau, who took over the case when Morgan County Common Pleas Court Judge Dan Favreau recused himself in October.
Though he frowned throughout the sentencing proceedings, Shuster largely maintained the detached emotional demeanor he had exhibited during his trial where he had coolly watched the jury foreman and jotted down notes during the reading of his 21 guilty verdicts.
There were no notes to be taken Wednesday, as Shuster’s hands were cuffed solidly together.
Shuster has been incarcerated since his March 7, 2012 arrest. He had been elected mayor of Stockport the preceding November and had served in the position just two months at the time of his arrest.
“(Shuster) held an office of public trust, and we would expect more from an individual in such an office,” said Nau.
The 21 charges against Shuster were divided between eight separate incidents, which Howdyshell argued should equate to consecutive sentences.
“These are separate crimes that happened (eight) separate times and places and the defendant should be punished for (eight) separate crimes,” said Howdyshell, while also acknowledging that the lesser offenses of gross sexual imposition and sexual battery should be merged into the larger sentence on the six instances where rape was the most serious charge.
Hedges asked that the court consider concurrent sentences, citing Shuster’s lack of a prior criminal history and the futility of sentencing Shuster to a time frame that would inevitably far exceed his biological life span.
“It serves no purpose sentencing a consecutive sentence that runs innumerable years,” said Hedges.
Nau concluded that the severity of the offense warranted consecutive sentences on the six rape charges. Three of those offenses occurred when the victim was less than 13 years old and carried an indefinite penalty of 25 years to life in prison. Nau sentenced Shuster to 10 years each on the remaining three charges of rape.
He also sentenced Shuster to three years and four years respectively on two lesser charges that were not allied with a rape charge. Those sentences were ordered to be served concurrently with the larger sentences and are therefore negligible, said Howdyshell, who added that the victim and her family were satisfied with the sentence.