The Murder of Shannon Sanderson

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In Memphis Tennessee, on the night of April 19th, 1996, Robert Sanderson was running late from work to meet his wife. Instead of waiting for him to arrive, Shannon Sanderson decided to head to a casino alone. Shannon was known to go to casinos, a lot, in fact, her husband mentioned that she went more than he would like.

At around 5 am, Shannon pulled into her ex-in-laws home to pick up her children before heading home for the night. The pick up did not go smoothly, however, upon her arrival, a two-door maroon Chevrolet pulled up to the house. Jurors later testified that they heard a scream and a thud and someone pushing something in the backseat of a car.

This was the last time anyone saw Shannon alive.

At the time of her abduction, Shannon was only 25 years old. She had three children from her first marriage, Amber, Michael Jr., and Chance Holland and they all lived with her and her husband Robert Sanderson in Memphis Tennessee.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves, what happened to Shannon the night before she was abducted?

The night of April 18th, 1996 was meant to be a celebration of Robert Sandersons birthday. The plan was that they two of them would head to Sam’s Town Hotel and Gambling Hall in Tunica County Mississippi which was about an hour away from Memphis, but things didn’t quite work out that way.

An argument ensued, which I am assuming was the result of an argument about Robert running late, and Shannon decided to head to Tunica County on her own. Shannon dropped off her three children at their grandparent's house and headed to the casino around 6:30 pm. Shannon had had a blackjack winning streak that night and at around 3 am she cashed in her chips for $5000.

To be cautious, Shannon was escorted to her car by an employee of Sam’s Town Hotel and Gambling hall and she started her drive back to Memphis. When she finally arrived at the home it was around 4:45 am.

A neighbor had seen Shannon drive down the road at approximately 4:30 am, he remembered seeing a dark car following her, he identified it as a Chevrolet Beretta

He said that he saw the car park in the driveway of the grandparents home.

According to her ex-father in law, he heard a commotion outside and when he looked out the window he saw Shannon bent over next to her car screaming “don’t, don’t”. He assumed she was on the phone with her husband but by the time he got outside, she was gone. Neighbors also woke up due to the screams and they said they saw a young person wearing a red baseball cap crouching near Shannon's car. She heard a thud and when she looked out a different window in her home she saw a man behind the wheel of a car which was pulled up right next to the home. She saw him reach behind him and push something into the back of the car and then speed away.

A bus driver in Eudora Mississippi, who had driven the same route for ten years, said he saw a marron Baretta pulling out of the driveway of a house, he had said in all his years he had never seen anyone come or go from that house.

On that same morning in Clarksdale Mississippi, at around 9:30 am a man returns home, driving up his driveway in his wife's marron Beretta. His wife thinks he's acting nervous, looking out the window, that kind of stuff. Her husband has an excuse though, he said he had won a lot of money while gambling earlier that night - he even gave her $100!

Sharon, the wife, doesn’t believe her husband Gerald Powers. She thinks he’s having an affair. She noticed that he was wearing a yellow shirt, blue jeans, a red baseball cap, a denim jacket, and white tennis shoes the same outfit he had been wearing the night before. She noticed that he had cleaned and vacuumed her car, none of this felt right to her. Sharon decided to confront her husband and accused him of having an affair.

But what he told her was much, much worse.

Gerald came clean and shared every horrific detail with his wife.

Gerald told her that he had kidnapped, robbed and killed a woman. He confessed that he had watched this woman play blackjack from the second-floor balcony of the casino, he followed her home in his wife's car, as she pulled up in her (the grandparents) driveway, he kidnapped her.

He then drove to an abandoned home in Mississippi, stopping only to move her from the seat of the car to the trunk.

Gerald shot her, once on the right side of her head. He then stole her jewelry and the $5000 cash she had won from the casino. He got rid of the gun by throwing it into the river.

At this point he knew there had been witnesses, he said he had seen the school bus driver notice him as well as one of the neighbors of the home where he had abducted Shannon but he wasn’t too concerned about it.

Gerald started to make plans for an alibi and decided to go chat with one of his neighbors, he asked that she tell anyone who asks that he was with her. The neighbor agreed, laughing and saying “as long as you didn’t kill anyone”.

The next night, while watching the news, Sharon and Gerald saw the report of Shannons abduction with a description of the suspect - who was obviously Gerald. Gerald immediately sprung into action, jumping into his car and going into hiding, he informed his wife that she should tell everyone he had left for Murfreesboro Tennessee and that they had money buried in the backyard if she needed it.

Sharon was no dummy though, the minute her husband left she called 911 and informed them that she thought he might be involved. One dumb thing she did do though was not tell them that Gerald had confessed to her. I realize this is an absolutely horrific situation to be in and I give her kudos for at least calling the police… but still, come on.

Gerald returned a week later to collect some money and write an alibi note saying he left his wife because he was dissatisfied with the marriage, he also told Sharon where he had hidden Shannons jewelry.

20 days later, on May 9th, 1996 Shannon was found.

She had been placed in the storage room in the back of an abandoned home. Her body was badly decomposed but they were able to identify her based on her clothing as it matched what she was last seen in.

Shannon had been shot in the head, but not before she had been brutally beaten. One of her front teeth had been knocked out, another was chopped and she had a fractured jaw. It was a horrific death.

On May 22nd, Gerald attempted to swerve a checkpoint and was stopped by an Immigration and Naturalization Service agent. Gerald tried to pull a knife on the agent but was subdued and brought into custody.

Upon his arrest his vehicle was handed over to the FBI when they checked the plates they noticed that they matched Sharon Powers and suddenly got curious. They did a thorough investigation of the car and they found something, real evidence connecting Gerald to the murder of Shannon. They found a black wool fiber that matched Shannon's clothing.

The FBI started interviewing Sharon and she finally told them about her husband's confession, she also lead them to where he had hidden Shannons jewelry. They searched the river too, however, they were never able to find the gun or Shannons purse.

During the trial video evidence was brought forward by the prosecution, they had footage of a person wearing white shoes standing at the balcony overlooking the blackjack table, they also had footage of this same person following Shannon out of the casino only 30 seconds after she left the building.

The prosecution also presented past convictions that Gerald had. The worst part of this whole case is that Gerald was known to do things like this.

In 1979 in Tennessee a woman came forward saying that Gerald had followed her home and as she was getting out of her car he jumped in and put a knife to her throat and after a struggle hit her in the head with a crescent wrench. He pleaded guilty to aggravated assault.

In 1980 also in Tennessee, a woman came forward saying she had given Gerald a ride when he pulled a knife on her and broke her nose with the handle. This woman was a badass though, she drove straight to the county jail where she honked her horn and Gerald was brought into custody, he later pleaded guilty for aggravated assault.

In 1984 Gerald entered a woman's home beat her with an iron skillet stole jewelry, credit cards, and a gun - he hid the gun and jewelry (sounds familiar) but was later apprehended and he pleads guilty to robbery and aggravated assault.

All of his past victims survived.

Gerald wasn’t about to sit by and let this happen though, his attorneys attempted to prove reasonable doubt.

They said that three other people had motive to kill Shannon, Brian Maher, Brett Musekamp and her husband, Robert Sanderson.

They tried to enter evidence stating that Brian Maher and Shannon had been having a two-month affair (which was true) and that two days before her kidnapping Shannon had gone to break it off with Brian and told him they could still be friends, Gerald insinuated that Brian was angry at Shannon for breaking things off with him and killed her - however, in reality, Brian said he wasn’t angry at all, in fact he was relieved as he had already started to see other women. This evidence was deemed irrelevant and was excluded from the trial.

Brett Musekamp had at one point written a letter to the Sandersons in an attempt to stop them from dating, obviously, it didn’t work and the Sandersons brought charges against him to stay away from Shannon, however, this evidence was also deemed irrelevant.

Now we come to Robert Sanderson, Gerald claimed that because of an agreement the Sandersons had made upon their marriage that Robert had motive to kill Shannon. Basically the document said that if they were to divorce Robert would have to pay for an apartment for Shannon for up to 6 months… the thing was that neither of them was considering divorce so there was really no motive and this evidence was also deemed irrelevant.

Gerald was sentenced to death for the murder of Shannon plus 30 years for the aggravated assault charge.

Gerald had some issues with the way his trial was done and he attempted to say that there were issues with the case, including the testimony of some of the victims of his prior convictions.

Now comes the confusing part, and I’ll remind you I am by no means a professional so this document that I was reading was a bit confusing but the way I understand it is this:

The court did not err when choosing to not admit the evidence I just stated, however, there is a possibility of error in the evidence I am about to tell you.

A witness came forward stating that the man she had seen on the night of Shannon's abduction was Robert Sanderson. And she isn’t the only one, an employee of the casino stated that he had seen Shannon on the night of her disappearance, she had been attempting to hide in a restricted area of the casino. When he went to talk to her she said that she was having trouble with a man who was sitting with her at the blackjack table and that the man was her husband. Three days later Robert went to the casino and introduced himself to the employee by name, asked him what Shannon had said about him and then assured him that he was not there on that night.

Ultimately if they had entered this evidence this testimony would have basically said that Robert WAS present at the casino even when he said that he wasn’t - which might have lead the jury to a different conclusion.

Supposedly in 2014, Gerald filed a Habeas Petition which basically is saying that his imprisonment is unlawful although I don’t have proof of this petition and I also haven't found out any information about if it has been looked at or anything.

Gerald is currently sitting on death row, there were some petitions in Tennessee to band the death penalty a few years ago and executions were halted, however, now they are back up although the last execution was in 2018 and he is not on the list for upcoming executions.

Resources:

The Clarksdale Press Register (Clarksdale, Mississippi)10 Dec 1998, Thu 10july 1996

https://caselaw.findlaw.com/tn-supreme-court/1450678.html

https://murderpedia.org/male.P/p/powers-gerald-lee.htm

Death Row info

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