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What It’s Like Out There

The alleged rape of a homeless woman offers view of life on TC’s streets

Patrick Sullivan - December 3rd, 2012  

Warning -- This story contains graphic sexual content.

They lived for a time in a tent in a small patch of woods behind the shuttered Arby’s at Front Street and Division in Traverse City.

They hadn’t been there long; they’d only known each other a couple of weeks and they’d been together for less than that, according to testimony.

The 25-year-old woman had been slipping into homelessness for some time. In the past eight years she’d racked up a record of misdemeanor convictions -- a couple of cases of minor in possession of alcohol, a drunk driving, a domestic violence case, and a false pretenses case.

She was no longer welcome at her mother’s house. She could stay at her mother’s garage, but she didn’t consider that an option.

She cared a lot about her boyfriend, she later testified at his preliminary hearing on sex assault charges in August. At least when he was sober.

But one night when Brian David Shanley, 31, had been drinking, things turned bad, she would testify.

She said she left the tent to pee late one summer night, and he followed her out. As she crouched in the dead leaves and dirt, she said he forced her to perform oral sex.

She said he told her: “’You’re going to be a good little girl. You want me to show you what it’s like out here? You want me to show you what it’s like out here? You’re my little bitch.’” Next he took her into the tent where she said he anal raped her until she bled. Then she said he forced her to roll him a cigarette.

“I’m naked and he wanted me to roll a cigarette with my legs spread. And after the cigarette was rolled he told me to lay down on my back and then he finished and rolled over and went to sleep,” she said.

She said when he later woke up naked and next to her, he asked what happened. After she told him, he said, “’I’m so very sorry.’”


That time, the homeless woman did not call police.

Those allegations only came to light after a second alleged rape that occurred days later, July 10, at a trailer home just outside of TC.

Shanley has been charged with the alleged sexual assaults but he has not been convicted. He has pleaded not guilty and maintains that he is innocent.

Efforts to reach family members to speak on Shanley’s behalf were unsuccessful. The woman could also not be located for comment.

The second allegation of sexual assault stems from a night the couple spent on the town, drinking until the early hours.

At a preliminary hearing, the girlfriend described the night of drinking. She said they each had a 24-ounce can of Ice House beer before leaving a friend’s house where they were staying. They then walked to the Sail Inn and on the way they split a pint of vodka. At the Sail Inn they split three pitchers of beer. After, they went to another friend’s house and smoked some weed.

They wound up alone back at another friend’s place, a trailer on Shady Lane, a tree-lined street of manufactured homes off of Barlow. They made noodles and drank more beer.

She would testify that Shanley was angry about an exchange he’d had with someone at the other apartment -- there had been a man holding a bag of pennies, who Shanley had asked, “’What are the bag of pennies for?’” to which the man responded: “’To slap you over the head with.’” She said Shanley blamed her for causing the encounter.

“So in whatever way, I guess, somehow I was instigating him to get into trouble, as if I was supposed to prevent the trouble he gets into,” she testified.


The woman said she hoped the anger would pass, but it did not.

She said she was wearing a strapless floor-length dress and he came up from behind her and pulled it down onto the floor, leaving her naked.

She ran and hid in a Jack-and-Jill bathroom and Shanley kicked in “the worthless trailer door,” she said. She ran into another room and hid in a fetal position in a dark corner.

“He came and found me and pulled me up by the hair,” she said.

What followed, she told the court, was a violent rape.

“And I told him that my dad was going to kill him, which only seemed to make it worse,” she testified.

After, things got calm and Shanley was strangely satisfied, she said.

“He sat up and had a cigarette, and he said, ‘Wow, that was -- that felt really real.’ He said, ‘That felt like I was really taking you.’” Shanley passed out and she said she made certain he was asleep before she went outside and called the cops.

Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s detectives investigated and the woman was taken to Munson Medical Center. The bruises and cuts that covered her body were documented in photographs.


Homeless people, especially women, are more vulnerable to all kinds of assault because of their lifestyle.

“People experiencing homelessness out on the streets are vulnerable in the sense they don’t have a place to go to call their own and to lock the door,” said Ryan Hannon, street outreach coordinator at Goodwill Industries of Northern Michigan. “They are really at the mercy of the elements and people that they run across.”

Hannon could not comment on this case specifically, but he could speak about homelessness in general.

Hannon, who has been working with the homeless for five years, said the indigent are also more reluctant to come forward. Chalk that up to pride, or whatever it was that caused them to become homeless in the first place.

“They may think they’re not worthy of public safety,” he said. “Maybe they think that they aren’t valued in society, so the police aren’t going to do anything, which is a myth. The police, I don’t know about everywhere else, but around here, are very, very helpful.”

As with any group of people, there are good and bad among the homeless. Only a small portion of them are people who would harm other people, Hannon said.

“Most of the population experiencing homelessness will look out for each other and protect each other, but there’s always a few out there, as in the general population, that are, I guess you would say, are bad seeds,” he said.


The Shanley case is by no means a straight-forward, open-and-shut case of sexual assault. The case is as murky as it is troubling.

Sheriff’s detectives would put together a case, led by Det. Jason Otting, and Noelle Moeggenberg, an assistant prosecutor for Grand Traverse County, would bring charges. But this case would present challenges that would come close to derailing it and see Shanley walk away.

The preliminary hearing in the case began on Aug. 2 with a courtroom surprise -- Moeggenberg appeared for the people, Shanley showed up from jail with his attorney, Randy Smith, and District Court Judge Michael Stepka was ready to proceed.

The homeless girlfriend, however, was nowhere to be found.

“The victim in this case has not appeared today,” Moeggenberg said, according to a transcript. “We do have a number of officers looking for her. She spoke to her father about 8 o’clock last night and told him that her plan was to be here. She’s living on the streets at this point.”

Moeggenberg said officers had been looking for her for the past two hours, and there was reason to be worried.

“Frankly, at this point, we’re concerned for her safety. During the time that this case has been pending, she’s had two people that have -- she had a tent where she’d been staying and they sort of ransacked the tent, made threatening remarks towards her,” Moeggenberg said.

She asked for an adjournment and Stepka agreed, citing the seriousness of the charges.


The hearing reconvened four days later and once again the accuser was no where to be found.

Moeggenberg told Stepka that she had been located on the day of the previous hearing, but officials had again lost track of her.

Moeggenberg asked for one last adjournment and for a bench warrant so the woman could be compelled to testify.

Stepka said: “Obviously she must have some apprehension or perhaps fear about testifying.”

Smith argued for a personal recognizance bond.

“He’s homeless, or relatively homeless,” Smith said. “He does have contacts in the area, but he’s impecunious. He can’t afford anything other than to get out on his recognizance.”

Stepka responded: “This is a very serious charge, one of the most serious that exists. It’s alleged to have been committed with violence, force and coercion. And it seems likely that the alleged victim here is reluctant to testify out of fear. So I’m not going to dismiss the case. I will allow one more adjournment. One more.”

He set bond for Shanley at ten percent of $100,000.


When the hearing reconvened on Aug. 13, there were more surprises -- this time the alleged victim showed up, but she did not sound like she was testifying for the prosecution.

The woman testified that she had trouble remembering what happened on the night of July 9 and early morning of July 10. She recounted how much she had to drink, and she said there were “black spots” in her memories of that night.

“How much do you remember about that night?” Moeggenberg asked her.

“Being at the bar playing pool,” she said. “I did black out that night.”

And she did not recall the rape. “The interaction between Brian and I that evening was consensual,” she said. “If anybody’s at fault here for anything, it’s me, for wasting this court’s time.”

She said she likes “rough sex,” and that’s how she got the bruises. She said a bite mark on her back was there because she had asked for it.

“The fact that she’s got preexisting bruising from what sounds to me like rough sex ... that’s not a criminal act, not if it’s between two consenting adults,” Smith argued.

The hearing, however, ended prematurely because Smith had not yet received all of the police reports.


On the fourth day of testimony, on Aug. 20, it was as if a different woman took the stand.

This time she testified that she was brutally raped.

Moeggenberg reminded the woman of how she had claimed not to remember much of the night of the incident.

“I think I’m still in shock about the entire experience,” the woman said. “I’ve been threatened by numerous people. ...That if Brian goes to jail, then I’m not going to like the outcome. And that I will be shown what rape is.”

One homeless man was charged with felony witness tampering for making threats. He has since pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor and claims he does not recall making threats because he was too drunk, according to his court file.

It was at the Aug. 20 hearing that the homeless woman went into great detail about the sexual assaults she said occurred inside a trailer on July 10 and days earlier at a camp behind Arby’s.

The testimony about what happened behind Arby’s caused more charges to be added against Shanley.

Stepka said he believed what the woman said that day over what she had previously said.

“Obviously she was embarrassed when these things occurred,” Stepka said. “And in testifying today, she was quite emotional in talking about each and every one of these allegations.”

When Shanley had walked into court that day, he faced one count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct. He walked out facing trial on an added count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and three counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct.


That wasn’t all that came to light on that final day of Shanley’s preliminary hearing, however.

There were also revelations that could be fodder for the defense if Shanley’s case goes to trial.

It came to light that after Shanley’s initial arrest for the alleged rape on July 10, he was released on bond two days later and he and his accuser met up.

The woman said she camped with him for around a week because she had no where else to go.

She said they stayed in the same tent and they were sexually active.

Why did she go back to the man who she accused of rape? “Because you didn’t think you had any other place to go?” Smith asked her.

She replied: “Well, yea, if you’re homeless on the street. That had been where we were both camping.”

Smith asked her why she didn’t go to stay at her mom’s garage.

The woman said: “Obviously, there are issues in the family or I would have been staying with my mom in the first place and not in her garage. So yea, I suppose I could have gone there. And also, as I stated before, I care a lot about Brian when he’s sober. When he’s drunk I am afraid to be around him and he told me that he wasn’t going to plan on drinking so on and so forth, so that was cool. And that was okay like that for a week.”


Given these circumstances, one might imagine it would have been easy for police or prosecutors to give up on this case. Yet they haven’t. It was investigated tenaciously; it has been prosecuted tenaciously.

Moeggenberg said she believes in the case. The case of a homeless woman abused by a homeless boyfriend probably wouldn’t have seen the inside of a courtroom 20 or so years ago, Moeggenberg said in an email interview.

“Fortunately, the system has made huge strides in understanding and dealing with domestic violence,” she said. “I think taking a closer look at non-stranger sexual assault is just the natural next step.”

These kind of cases are difficult to unravel because of the control a man can exert over a woman in an abusive relationship.

Moeggenberg, who has spent years prosecuting domestic violence cases, said a non-stranger sex assault case can have some of the same complications as a domestic violence case, including a wavering victim who might come forward and then retreat.

She said it takes time and resources to evaluate and bring such cases.

“The other half of the equation is having a prosecutor’s office where attorneys are given the time necessary to invest in this type of case -- obviously they are not cut and dry and it is necessary to spend a fair amount of time with the victim/witnesses,” Moeggenberg said. “Fortunately, I’m in such an office.”


Smith is no longer Shanley’s attorney. Smith said he had no comment.

The relationship between Smith and Shanley broke down after the prelim, and Shanley asked Smith to file a motion to fire himself as Shanley’s court-appointed attorney.

Shanley’s new court-appointed attorney, Philip Settles, also had no comment.

Shanley has already had a rough life and he’d spent time in prison before all of this started.

He was convicted of breaking and entering and sentenced to two to five years in prison in 1999 when he was a teenager. In 2003, he was sentenced to 16 months to two years in prison for fleeing police.

His trial is scheduled for Dec. 19.

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