There was no easing into her career as a prosecutor, recalls Shannon Wallace. She'd known ever since grade school that she wanted to work as a district attorney, but when she approached Ocmulgee Circuit District Attorney Fred Bright about an internship, he made certain she knew what she was getting into.
"He was getting ready to try a death penalty case, and he gave me the case file and said, 'If you can go through this and you still want to be a prosecutor, I'll work with you,'" says Wallace.
The crime was horrific—the brutal slaying of two young children and their father—but the third-year law student plowed through the photographs and assured Bright she could do the job.
"I started working with the Juvenile Court with him, and I developed a passion for working with children," says Wallace. "The office was too small to specialize—everybody handled all kinds of cases—but I always took the molestation cases, the child crimes; nobody else wanted them."
Wallace prosecuted in central Georgia until 2008 when she moved north so that husband Kyle could sign on as a partner with Alston & Bird. After a few months at a Sandy Springs firm she took a position with longtime Cherokee County DA Garry Moss.
In 2012, when Moss announced he was not running for re-election, Wallace threw her hat into the ring; for a time, it appeared that she would be going head-to-head with Solicitor General David Cannon Jr., until he shifted focus to make a successful run for the Superior Court.
Supported by Moss and Cannon, Wallace ran unopposed and became Cherokee County's first female district attorney, heading a 41-employee department.
Seven months into her first term, Wallace says she continues to pay particular attention to crimes against women and children, even as she has reallocated some departmental resources to implement a pretrial diversion program for young offenders, and to work with the county's drug court.
Bright says he's gratified to witness his protege's success.
"I actually look up to Shannon," says Bright. "She was with me almost a decade, and she's done every job there is in a prosecutor's office. She single-handedly started the juvenile prosecution program here, and she developed all the forms and procedures we still use today."
"She's got ton of potential, and the sky's the limit for her," Bright says. "My loss was Cherokee County's gain."
Wallace says that, while she might eventually consider a judicial post, she's perfectly satisfied with her current job "as long as the people of Cherokee County want me."
Wallace, a mother of two, says she sometimes experiences a more visceral reaction to crimes against the young and vulnerable than when she was younger.
"I can say it was a lot easier, before I had children, to work cases and not take it home emotionally. But it makes me fight harder for the kids: What kind of prosecutor would I want if my children were the victims?"
"Unfortunately," she says, "in my line of work, most of my cases are sad: There's really not a winner. Even if you get a conviction, somebody's life is destroyed."