Son charged with mother's death faces a judge


John Shank said nothing when he was brought into the courtroom. What happened inside the family's River Oaks-area home on Wednesday still has many people in the community talking and speculating.

Shank remained in Harris County Jail on Friday. He's under suicide watch and is being housed in the jail's mental health ward. The question that may never be answered -- or at least until the day of the trial -- is how did this ever happen?

It was an arraignment in state court, in which no cameras were allowed. John Hiller Shank, 20, appeared in an orange jail jumpsuit on a charge of murder. He's accused of killing his mother by using a knife as the weapon. He stood quietly, and the hearing was over.

"Because of the nature of what happened, I'm going to be succinct. We intend to try this case in the courtroom and not to the media," Shank's attorney, Dan Cogdell said. "The family is going through a horrific tragedy, and we simply ask for the continued prayers and support of their friends and their family."

It happened in a River Oaks-area neighborhood Wednesday afternoon. Neighbors heard a woman's screams and ran to help. They found Nancy Shank dead on the entry room floor. John Shank, according to a probable cause document, walked out of the family home covered in blood.

Nancy was active in charity organizations and her church. She would ask people to pray for her son, who had been hospitalized twice this year for mental illness.

"I don't know anything about the particular treatment that this man received, but I do know that regardless of the quality of care an individual gets, it's not always perfect," Dr. Ray Hays said.

Dr. Hays is a forensic psychologist and an attorney. Shank had the benefit of family means to provide for psychiatric treatment in a private hospital, and a psychiatrist, police say, he spoke to the morning of the murder, but Hays says all that doesn't carry a guarantee.

"You think things are going well and they get worse, and unfortunately no area of medicine is perfect. Psychiatry is not perfect," Dr. Hays said. "We have medications that work for certain kinds of problems but they don't work all the time and they don't work for everyone."

John Shank's exact mental illness has not been disclosed by the family. His next court appearance will be to enter a plea.

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