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Taylor County Teacher's Murder Trial Underway

Shelly Strickland Trial
Posted at 5:15 PM, Apr 20, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-20 17:15:00-04

PERRY, FL (WTXL) -- Taylor County residents call themselves a tight-knit community -- where everyone seems to know everyone.

At the courthouse Wednesday, friends and family of Michelle "Shelly" Strickland are still hurting from her death less than a year ago.

"In her car," said Strickland's father Michael O'Steen, who was the first to testify, "with her head back on the seat."

Strickland, 50, was found shot to death inside her car at her Perry home.

Her nephew Garrett Arrowood -- the first of three suspects to be tried for her murder.

Before her death, Strickland was a reading teacher at Taylor County Middle School for two years. Before that, she worked her way to become principal of Taylor County Elementary School. Overall, she served the district 29 years.

"You hear about different things in the community happening, but never to a person of her nature," said Taylor County Middle School principal Kiki Puhl. She says she knew Strickland for most of her life -- working together as administrators for the district.

"She was a really good person," Puhl said. "She had a really good heart, so I think it was a shock of it being a murder -- in trying to understand who would want to do something like that to her."

The school has honored her memory with a bench set up -- across from the classroom where she taught.

"The impact that she had on her students was all about her caring about how much they learned to read and really understanding what they needed to be doing."

At the courthouse, Strickland's family sat behind the defense rather than the prosecution. Lisa Arrowood -- Garrett's mom and Strickland's only sister -- declined to go on camera, but says she believes her son is innocent -- and that Strickland's death has devastated the whole family.

Arrowood's trial is expected to continue for the rest of the week.

Meanwhile, court dates have still not been set for the other two charged in Strickland's murder, Rodney and Manden Whiddon.

The father and son have also been charged with first-degree murder.