Confessed murderer Shalen Gardner pleaded guilty on Friday to the 2017 capital murder and sexual assault of his estranged wife, Elanceia “Lana” Gardner, according to a September 12 press release issued by the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office.
With his plea, Gardner avoids any possibility of receiving the death penalty and will spend the rest of his life behind bars. His plea agreement does not provide an opportunity for parole.
Lana was killed in her Fort Worth home on the night of November 1, 2017, while her children slept. Her body was discovered in the Fairmont Avenue duplex by her children the following morning.
Gardner told police, “I’m not a bad guy,” when confessing to the crime days later.
Police later determined that Gardner sexually assaulted Lana before strangling her to death, leading to the eventual capital murder charge.
Gardner and Lana were separated, and police indicated that the couple was planning to divorce.
“We welcomed you into our family as one of our own,” the victim’s mother said in a letter that was read during sentencing. “We accepted you as a family member. You decided to take away the very person who made life worth living. She loved you even when you were unlovable.”
Gardner has a long track record of serious run-ins with law enforcement prior to killing Lana.
In 2011, Gardner was arrested after allegedly threatening a family member with a knife. He was arrested again five months later, accused of killing the family dog with a hammer.
A court at the time sentenced Gardner to two years’ probationary deferred adjudication. The sentence allowed him to go free, provided he did not violate other laws within the two-year window.
According to various sources, Gardner was arrested several times for illegal possession of a firearm and drug charges following his probationary sentence but never received more than six months on any charge.
In 2017, Gardner was sentenced to three months in a substance abuse facility. He was released two months prior to killing Lana.
Intimate partner violence remains one of the most frequently encountered problems facing Tarrant County and law enforcement agencies nationwide. In November 2021, Tarrant County released the 2020 Fatality Report, a detailed analysis of intimate partner deaths in the county for the preceding year.
The data showed intimate partner homicides rose 23% over the previous year and exceeded the peak numbers the county saw in 2016. A total of 17 deaths in Tarrant County were attributed to intimate partner violence in 2020.
“Intimate Partner Violence is never limited to a victim; the families of those suffering are so often left behind to pick up the pieces,” said Tarrant County Assistant Criminal District Attorney Allenna Bangs.
Lana Gardner’s children now reside with their grandmother. She told Gardner in a letter at his sentencing, “God has taken over, and we live wonderful lives.”
Her letter reads, “You may have taken their mother away, but you can never steal their joy, their spirit, their future, or happiness, or their hope.”