Traverse City Record-Eagle

February 20, 2013

Benzie man pleads no contest to 2nd-degree murder of wife


BEULAH — Sherri Gatrell remembers when her daughter didn't join the family for Easter a couple years back because she had a black eye.

Later, her daughter, Stephanie Stanton, had strangulation marks on her neck, injuries that appeared shortly before she died on May 6, 2012, Gatrell said.

Now that Stephanie's husband and accused killer, Deshawn Stanton, 27, entered a no contest plea to second-degree murder, Gatrell said her "waiting game" is over.

She's relieved Stanton will be held responsible, but "it's not really going to change anything."

"The point is he gets to see his family. They go up and visit him, and we'll never see her again. Those three little kids are hurt because of his actions," Gatrell said, referring to Stephanie's three children, ages 6, 8 and 10.

Investigators said Deshawn Stanton shot Stephanie, 28, in the neck inside a residence along Cinder Road in Benzie County's Homestead Township. The case was set to go to trial March 20, but Stanton recently agreed to a plea deal. Charges of use of a firearm during a felony and possession of firearm by a felon were dismissed, according to court documents.

Benzie County Prosecutor Sara Mason said she offered the deal in part to avoid trial.

"It's difficult going to a trial. You never know what the outcome is going to be. There's obviously a lot of difficult testimony we were going to hear," Mason said.

Sentencing is scheduled for March 26.

Stanton's attorney could not be immediately reached for comment.

Gatrell was under the impression Stanton would enter a guilty plea. No contest — in which a judge issues a sentence under the presumption the suspect is guilty, though the suspect does not acknowledge guilt — is "the coward's way out," Gatrell said. "This way he didn't have to admit he did it."

Stephanie's father is in prison and will be released in time for the sentencing, Gatrell said. He couldn't attend his daughter's funeral.

Gatrell's instinct told her Stanton "wasn't a nice person" when she met him a few months before the couple married in 2007. Stephanie didn't share many details of their relationship; she knew her mother didn't approve.

"She wouldn't let me help her," she said. "I just don't understand why she kept going back to him. I'll never know. I don't know if it's because she was afraid of him."

Deshawn's father, Larry Stanton, who lives in Arizona, is "disappointed about all of it," that Stephanie is dead and his son will "pay the price."

"I'm very hurt," he said. "I have days I can tolerate it and deal with it. And I have days where it eats me open inside."

Larry Stanton said he doesn't know what happened between the couple. Gatrell has unanswered questions, too.

She said communities need to better address domestic violence.

"Men that do that to women need ... to figure out why they do such things, what makes them so mad to put their hands on their wife or girlfriend. And if it's that person, move on, leave," she said. "There's a door, walk out."