Deaths prompt new questions about disbarred lawyer

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Associated Press

Posted on June 1, 2010 at 11:59 AM

HOUSTON -- The first time Sharon Russell met her daughter's boyfriend, she had a bad feeling about him. But it wouldn't be until months later, when the relationship with attorney Shawn Roland Roberts grew serious, that her maternal instincts would prove correct.

Tara Sganga, an energetic and outgoing medical sales representative who enjoyed spending time with friends and family, gradually became withdrawn and distant. Many times she wouldn't answer her phone or open the door at her west Houston apartment. And her appearance changed. She lost weight and her thick wavy hair turned thin, Russell said.

Russell said she once tried to persuade police to check on her 32-year-old daughter's welfare because Sganga had called screaming and crying, and then the phone went dead.

A few weeks later, on March 19, 2007, Roberts discovered Sganga unconscious in her bathtub shortly after midnight. Roberts, who called 911, told EMS personnel he had been sleeping before he found her, according to Houston Fire Department records.

Her death was ruled a drowning. Numerous drugs, including cocaine, morphine and hydrocodone, were found in her body. The manner of death was undetermined, according to the autopsy report.

Since Sganga's death, three other people close to Roberts have died, prompting the Texas Rangers and other authorities to investigate. Roberts, who was disbarred last year for professional misconduct related to drug use, was at the scene of each death, according to police.

The most recent death involved his wife, Amanda Linscomb, who was found unconscious on April 14 at a Willis apartment. She was transported to Conroe Medical Center, where she died the next day. Police said they recovered drugs at the scene and believe she died from an apparent overdose. Investigators are waiting for the autopsy report for the cause of death.

Roberts is being treated as a witness, said Willis police Sgt. Alton Nelson.

"It's possible that once we get the lab results, we might file other charges unrelated to her death, possibly drug possession charges against him," Nelson said.

The Texas Rangers are assisting with the case and also probing the death of Sganga, Roberts' roommate, Steven Blackshear, who died from acute toxicity in March 2009, and Roberts' mother, Sandra Roberts, who shot herself in the head in August 2009.

Blackshear and the mother both died at Roberts' Manvel home. A Brazoria County grand jury later reviewed the deaths but found no evidence of foul play.

"You get a gut feeling, it can't be coincidence," said Manvel Police Capt. Duke Adkisson, who recently reopened the Blackshear case after learning of Linscomb's death.

Roberts is in the Harris County jail on several drug charges, including a charge of delivery of a controlled substance via injection related to Sganga's death. He was booked into jail three weeks ago after a judge revoked his bond for using drugs, a violation of his probation conditions on another drug charge.

Harris County prosecutors filed the delivery charge in August 2009, after a grand jury declined to indict Roberts on a murder charge, said Donna Hawkins, spokeswoman for the Harris County District Attorney's Office. Roberts is set to go to trial in July, she said.

Russell said she believes Roberts took control of her daughter's life and led her down a path of destruction, and thinks he followed the same pattern with 30-year-old Amanda Linscomb. She said she has waited a long time to see him charged in her daughter's death.

But Roberts' attorney, Mark Bennett, said the charge is not connected to her death and that prosecutors have no evidence that Roberts injected her with drugs.

"The (drug) charge is driven in part by a very upset family who wants Shawn held responsible for their daughter's death," Bennett said.

As far as Roberts' involvement in the other deaths, Bennett said people involved in drugs will likely have people around them die. Asked if that meant Roberts was a drug user, he said, "I don't have an answer for that."

In a brief jail interview on Thursday, Roberts, 40, took a couple of minutes to contemplate before declining to comment about the four deaths. He said he would be willing to talk about the case after he is found not guilty on the drug charge related to Sganga's death.

Linscomb's parents, who live in Montgomery County, declined to comment on their daughter's death and her relationship with Roberts.

Blackshear's wife, Laurie, said she doesn't believe Roberts had anything to do with her husband's death. She said he died from multiple factors, including unknown health problems. She said 50-year-old Blackshear, an oil and gas accountant who had an alcohol problem, became good friends with Roberts in rehab and was like a big brother to Roberts.

The couple had separated, so Steven Blackshear stayed with Roberts until he could find a place to live, she said. He died four days after he moved in, police said. His death was later ruled an accident, according to his autopsy report.

Sandra Roberts also was living with Roberts and Linscomb when she died. Roberts told police that he and Linscomb were watching TV in their bedroom when his mother came in, pulled a gun out of a drawer and said, "I need this." He said she then walked out the back door to the back yard and shot herself, police said. Roberts said he was right behind her when she pulled the trigger, Adkisson said.

Statements given by Roberts didn't match up with the evidence at the scene and he refused to give police a statement in Blackshear's death, Adkisson said. They had to rely on Linscomb's statements, which were contradictory, he said.

In May 2009, Roberts was disbarred from practicing law. He had failed to show up for a client's court hearings and practiced while impaired by drugs, records show. Roberts also was ordered to pay $20,000 in restitution and to seek rehabilitation as a condition of reinstatement. He is appealing the decision.

The ruling came shortly after Roberts was charged with DWI and possession of a controlled substance in Brazoria County. On March 27, 2009, Angleton police found Roberts passed out in his car in a Walgreens parking lot about 11:30 p.m. Police recovered Soma, Xanax and Oxycontin, and he was arrested after failing a field sobriety test.

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