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Shannon Gonser

Other Colorado Exonerations
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In 2005, prosecutors in Arapahoe County, Colorado charged 34-year-old Shannon Gonser with 40 counts of sexually and physically abusing her four children, ages 7 to 13. The allegations arose during a contentious divorce in which Gonser and her husband were battling for custody of the children.

Gonser went to trial in Arapahoe County Court in the spring of 2006. The children—a seven-old girl and three boys—testified that Gonser sexually and physically abused them.

Gonser denied the charges, but on April 6, 2006, the jury convicted her of one count of sexually abusing one of the boys and three counts of physically abusing the three boys. She was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison.

In 2009, the Colorado Court of Appeals reversed the convictions and ordered a new trial. The appeals court ruled that the trial court judge erroneously allowed a prosecution witness to give an expert opinion even though the witness had not been qualified as an expert.

The witness had opined that the fact that children don’t remember events doesn’t mean the events did not occur. The appeals court ruled that the opinion directly related to testimony that resulted in the conviction for sexual abuse. It noted that the boy had given varying and conflicting accounts over time and sometimes said nothing had happened.

By the time Gonser went to trial a second time in July 2010, her new defense attorney had discovered that a neighbor had accused the oldest boy, who was not living with Gonser at the time, of sexually assaulting the neighbor’s daughter, and that juvenile proceedings relating to this accusation were ongoing when the boy made the first allegation against his mother. The defense argued at the retrial that the boy had coached his siblings to make false allegations against their mother because of the divorce battle and because he was being accused of sexual abuse against the neighbor’s daughter.

On July 28, 2010, the jury acquitted Gonser and she was released.

At the time Gonser was convicted, her sentence included several monetary charges required under state law: a $125 fee designated for Colorado’s Crime Victim Compensation fund, a $162.50 charge for Colorado’s Victims and Witnesses Assistance and Law Enforcement Fund, a $60 in docket and other fees, and restitution of $7,845 for a total of $8,192.50.

AFter she was acquitted, Gonser—by then known as Shannon Nelson—sought a refund of $702.10, which had been taken out of her prison inmate account by the Colorado Department of Corrections and applied to some of her debts.

The trial court ruled it had no authority to order the state to refund the money. The Colorado Court of Appeals reversed and ruled that state law required refunding all the money that Nelson had paid. But the Colorado Supreme Court reversed and upheld the trial court judge, ruling that state law required that defendants, even if acquitted, must prove by clear and convincing evidence that they were factually innocent of the crimes.

In 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Nelson’s favor and ordered the money refunded.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 12/14/2016
Last Updated: 4/21/2017
State:Colorado
County:Arapahoe
Most Serious Crime:Child Sex Abuse
Additional Convictions:Child Abuse
Reported Crime Date:2005
Convicted:2006
Exonerated:2010
Sentence:20 years to life
Race:Caucasian
Sex:Female
Age at the date of crime:34
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No