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KELL'S PARTNER IN CRIME DESCRIBES '86 MURDER

Published: Thursday, June 27 1996 12:00 a.m. MDT

When Sandy Shaw first met Troy Kell she was 6 years old and had just moved with her family from Minnesota to Las Vegas.

She immediately struck up a friendship with the then 10-year-old Kell and considered him a "big brother protector type," she said this week during Kell's capital murder trial.But that friendship ultimately ended up with the two becoming partners in murder. Along with another man, Billy Marrett, the three lured James "Cotton" Kelly, 21, to a remote section of a desolate Nevada desert on Sept. 29, 1986.

An unprovoked Kell then shot Kelly six times in the face at close range because he was upset the man had approached Shaw with the proposition of being photographed nude.

Shaw is currently serving two life sentences in a Nevada prison for her role in the death and was transported from Nevada to Utah to testify in Gunnison. Marrett struck a plea negotiation for his participation.

But Kell was convicted of murder and sentenced to two life terms for the shooting. But unlike Shaw, Kell's sentence 10 years ago didn't allow for the possibility of parole.

Shaw, testifying as a character witness for the defense, told jurors she cared about Kell and was concerned for him. She then explained how she became involved in the killing.

"I met (Kelly) downtown at a McDonald's, and he got my phone number from a friend," she said. "He called me every day all through the night and day. This went on for a week and a half, maybe two weeks.

"He wanted to take me out and take nude pictures of me," Shaw said. At the time, she was 15 years old.

Shaw refused to pose for the photos, and sometime during the two weeks of Kelly's calls, she told Kell about it.

"I asked Troy to beat him up so (Kelly) would leave me alone," she said.

Kell was upset over Kelly's alleged intentions and said he would help her out, she said.

Shaw then explained that she was going to "set Kelly up."

"I told him (Marrett) to meet me at a certain location and told him I needed to get some medication," she said.

Then she and Marrett drove out beyond Las Vegas' city limits, stopped somewhere in the desert and Shaw pretended she had hurt her leg. Kell and Kelly then came out to where Shaw was after she called for them to come help her.

"When they got out here, Kelly grabbed my arm to pick me up and I heard a gunshot. He fell. Then I heard three more shots," she said.

"Did Troy Kell ever know Cotton Kelly?" Assistant Attorney General Kirk Torgensen asked during cross examination.

"No," she replied.

After the incident, Shaw said the three took Kelly's wallet, split about $1,000 in cash and fled in Kelly's car.

"We were all nervous" after it happened, she said.

"Was Kell upset?" Torgensen asked.

"No, not really," Shaw said.

Kell was convicted of aggravated murder last week for the stabbing death of fellow inmate Lonnie Blackmon in 1994. On Wednesday, the 29-year-old was handed a death sentence by a six-man, six-woman jury after less than three hours of deliberation.

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