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‘How any human can be so cruel’ - Man sentenced after kids testify about torture
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Scott Shelby listens Wednesday, June 22, 2022, in Hall County Superior Court as he faces charges that he molested and abused children in 2017-2018. - photo by Scott Rogers

Scott Shelby, the man accused of molesting and abusing four children, pleaded guilty Wednesday, June 22, on the second day of his trial. 

Shelby was sentenced to life in prison by Judge Kathlene Gosselin. 

“I’ve been on the bench a really long time, and I’ve seen a lot of horrible cases,” Gosselin said. “This one is one of the most horrible.”

The plea came after a young woman testified about the abuse she and her three siblings suffered as children while Shelby was their guardian. Defense attorney Kyle Denslow told the judge he didn’t want to subject the children to any further trauma by making them testify. 

Shelby, 47, pleaded guilty to a total of 10 counts of aggravated child molestation, child molestation and first-degree child cruelty of four children in 2017-2018.

Assistant District Attorney Harold Buckler made an impassioned appeal for a life sentence, his voice breaking at one point. He said the youngest child, who testified earlier in the trial, is “broken” and will never recover from the trauma. 

“I had to transport a 14-year-old suicidal girl here from a mental hospital to testify against the only father she ever knew, the person whose abuse had put her in the hospital,” he said. “She’s never going to be OK.”

A forensic interviewer and a mental health counselor testified earlier in the day about the same child. 

“She’s afraid to take a bath because Scott (Shelby) would hold her head under the water,” said Brandy Rogers, a mental health counselor who has held therapy sessions with the young girl for the past two years. 

In her testimony, forensic interviewer Amy Economopoulos said the girl told her that Shelby put his foot on the back of her head and forced to perform a sex act on a sibling. 

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Attorney Kyle Denslow questions child counselor Amy F. Economopoulos Wednesday, June 22, 2022, during day two of the Scott Shelby trial in Hall County Superior Court. Shelby pleaded guilty to molesting and abusing children in 2017-2018. - photo by Scott Rogers

Shelby, who is related to the mother, began caring for the children around 2011 after their mother and father could no longer take care of them, according to the young woman’s testimony. She said her mother struggled with drug addiction and at times fell into prostitution, and her father had been to jail.

She said that she was about to turn 7 years old when her mother dropped them off at Shelby’s house. She estimated that one brother was 5, the other 3 or 4, and her sister 2. 

“It was OK for the first year while we still had visitation with everyone, while we were still involved with the court, while people were still looking and watching, but once everyone stopped watching, everything just went to hell,” she said. 

She described Shelby as a lazy, abusive hoarder and said he was responsible for almost all of the abuse. 

Shelby’s then wife, Rebecca Nguyen, was charged with four counts of second-degree child cruelty for not reporting that the children were being abused, according to the indictment.

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Rebecca Nguyen

The oldest of four, the young woman said she was left to care for her siblings, picking out their clothes for school, taking them to the bus stop and cooking them dinner, often spaghetti or ramen noodles. She was just 9 or 10 years old, she said. 

The abuse had gotten so bad that she came up with a suicidal plan called the “great escape.” 

“I thought that there needed to be more attention brought, so I was going to get myself killed in order for someone to realize that this is as bad as I was trying to tell everybody,” she said. 

Moments later, defense attorney Kyle Denslow called for a recess, telling Judge Gosselin that he needed time with his client to consider a guilty plea. The reason was to avoid further testimony and “the effect it’s going to have on these kids,” he told the judge. 

About an hour and a half later, Shelby pleaded guilty to all 10 counts. 

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Assistant District Attorney Harold Buckler, left, and defense attorney Kyle Denslow have a private discussion with judge Kathlene Gosselin Wednesday, June 22, 2022, during day two of the Scott Shelby trial in Hall County Superior Court. - photo by Scott Rogers

The foster mother of the two boys called in over Zoom before sentencing was handed down. The two boys were sitting next to her. 

“As I listened to these children tell these stories for the past three years, I have often wondered how any human can be so cruel,” she said. “(Shelby) compares in my heart to Hitler.”

“I don't really think anything that happens to him will ever make us feel at peace or at justice with what was done to us and taken from us,” said the young woman whose testimony prompted the guilty plea. “I do hope that he never gets out.” 

Defense attorney Kyle Denslow asked the judge for a 30-year sentence.

“That same piece of Scott Shelby that at one point cared for these children is the same piece of Scott Shelby that’s not going to subject them to continue to have to testify,” he said. 

Judge Gosselin was apparently unmoved. She said most of the offenders who come through the court system can be helped through social work. 

“But we also occasionally see evil, and here it is,” she said. 

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Mental health counselor Brandy Rogers is questioned by assistant district attorney Harold Buckler Wednesday, June 22, 2022, during day two of the Scott Shelby trial in Hall County Superior Court. Shelby pleaded guilty to molesting and abusing children in 2017-2018. - photo by Scott Rogers