The family of an Eastern Kentucky University student who went missing six years ago has won a nearly $3.5 million judgment against two men they claim were involved in her disappearance.
Molly Dattilo’s family may never see the money, since one man is in prison and the other’s whereabouts are unknown. But her cousin, Keri Dattilo of Indianapolis, said the Monday ruling in Marion County Superior Court is an important step.
“I don’t think we’ll ever collect anything (but) this is the closest we have to any kind of accountability at this point,” she said.
Judge David Dreyer ordered the default judgment against John Shelton, 37, an inmate at the state prison in Plainfield, and his father, Edward Shelton. Neither man has ever been charged in Dattilo’s disappearance, and Indianapolis police declined to say whether the two were ever considered suspects.
But a lawsuit filed by Dattilo’s legal guardian in 2007 claimed the men had attacked Dattilo, possibly causing her death. The judgment was first reported Wednesday by The Indianapolis Star.
Dattilo, a 23-year-old EKU student, was attending summer classes at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis when she was last seen on July 6, 2004. Family members said she left her car and belongings behind at her apartment, but Keri Dattilo and attorney James C. Spencer said police initially didn’t treat her disappearance as a crime.
“Police didn’t investigate for a while,” Keri Dattilo said. “By the time they decided to do anything about it the case was pretty cold. They treated it as a missing person instead of a homicide.”
Indianapolis police had no immediate comment.
Dattilo’s family pushed for a 2007 state law that requires police departments to begin searching immediately for “high-risk” missing adults.
Spencer said the allegation that the Sheltons were involved in Molly Dattilo’s disappearance was based on “bits and pieces” of information the family obtained from police investigators over the years. He said John Shelton, whom Molly Dattilo met the day she vanished, was suspected of killing her, while Edward Shelton may have helped him dispose of the body.
Keri Dattilo said her cousin met John Shelton through someone else at her apartment complex and the two went boating on the retention pond there, then went out to eat. Molly Dattilo tried to call a friend at about 11 p.m., and hasn’t been heard from since, she said.
John Shelton is in prison on charges of theft, receiving stolen property and driving while suspended for life and is due to be released from in 2012. Attempts to arrange to contact him for comment on Monday’s ruling went unanswered by officials at the prison. Edward Shelton’s whereabouts are unknown and he is believed to be in Virginia, Spencer said.
The court order issued Monday said Dreyer had found the men in default, saying John Shelton never responded to the complaint and his father failed to cooperate or keep the court informed about his whereabouts. Neither man had an attorney. John Shelton has appealed the finding of default, which was reached earlier this year.
The judgment includes about $1.7 million for lost earnings, pain and suffering, and another $1.7 million in punitive damages.