TAMPA — Just shy of six years ago, authorities charged Nahshon Shannon in the death of his 13-year-old daughter, Janessa, whose body was found in a Hillsborough County nature preserve.
The arrest ended a three-month investigation that began after Nahshon Shannon reported the girl missing a day after she had vanished from his Cocoa Beach Drive home in Riverview.
On Tuesday, a week-long trial neared its end as a 12-person jury began deliberating whether Nahshon Shannon, 44, is guilty of first-degree felony murder and aggravated child abuse.
In closing arguments, Hillsborough County Assistant State Attorney Jessica O’Connor said the state had presented “puzzle pieces” of evidence, including numerous witnesses and exhibits, proving Nahshon Shannon killed his daughter and buried her body.
“Every single one of those puzzle pieces fits together,” O’Connor said. “When you put those pieces together, you see one thing — Nahshon Shannon is the one who is responsible for the death of Janessa Shannon.”
On July 1, 2017, Nahshon Shannon picked up Janessa from the Bradenton home of her mother, Michelle Mosely. Mosely had texted Nahshon Shannon, who had primary custody of the teen, to pick up Janessa after she’d snuck out of the home the night before.
Mosely testified in court that Nahshon Shannon appeared angry when he came to pick up Janessa in a black Jeep Cherokee, and that the girl seemed scared.
When Nahshon Shannon left Mosley’s house, he texted his girlfriend, “I need you to go to your place, I need to deal with Nessa.”
O’Connor said gaps in Nahshon Shannon’s response time to his girlfriend’s texts that night gave him time to kill Janessa and bury her body in a shallow grave in the isolated Triple Creek Nature Preserve in southeastern Hillsborough County. The following day, Nahshon Shannon texted his girlfriend, saying he’d checked on Janessa’s room and she wasn’t there.
Janessa’s father did not report her missing to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office until the next day. Her body was found nine days later.
The Hillsborough medical examiner found multiple areas of bleeding on the back of Janessa’s head and in her neck muscles that indicated Janessa had injuries “consistent with being strangled,” O’Connor said. The death was ruled a homicide from blunt force trauma.
Toxicology tests showed the girl had alcohol and cocaine in her system that had been ingested within six hours of her death.
Investigators with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office collected a screw and a soil sample from the scene where Janessa’s body was found. While searching Nahshon Shannon’s home, investigators found a shovel with two screws that were about to fall out and additional holes. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement analyzed the screws on the shovel and the one found at the scene and said there were “no differences.”
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Investigators also found a plastic bag in Nahshon Shannon’s Jeep that contained a small amount of soil. The chemical makeup of that soil was a 99.9% match to soil taken from the grave, O’Connor said.
Nahshon Shannon’s attorneys, William Bennett and Bjorn Brunvand, had declined to make an opening statement when the trial began last week. On Tuesday, Bennett spoke to the jury for more than an hour, trying to poke holes in the state’s case and alleging the Sheriff’s Office investigation was flawed.
“They’re missing a lot of pieces in this puzzle, but I analogize it more to a square peg into a round hole,” Bennett said.
Bennett argued the state had not proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Nahshon Shannon killed his daughter. In the instance of the screw found at the crime scene, Bennett said more sophisticated analysis should have been completed on the screw, and that there was not enough evidence to prove it matched the ones on the shovel found in Nahshon Shannon’s home.
Bennett also said Nahshon Shannon’s Jeep, which was confiscated by police, was left unattended, and evidence, like the dirt in the car, was not photographed.
“There is no trail of how that evidence got there,” Bennett said.
Bennett later showed a video taken from a home near Nahshon Shannon’s residence the night that Janessa disappeared. He asked the jury to consider a red car that appears in the tape, and a blurry figure seen near Janessa’s window. Bennett argued the Sheriff’s Office did not properly investigate the video, and that the person seen in the video may have had a part in Janessa’s death.
Bennett ended his closing argument by walking over to Nahshon Shannon, who sat quietly through the morning hearing, and pointing at him.
“Nahshon Shannon did not kill his daughter,” Bennett said. And repeated it once more.
The jury began deliberating around 12:30 p.m. and was dismissed for the evening just before 6 p.m. Deliberations will resume Wednesday morning.
Times staff writers Tony Marrero and Jack Prator contributed to this report.