tv When the Smoke Clears MSNBC November 5, 2011 12:00pm-1:00pm PDT
on our website. just logon to dateline.msnbc.com. that's all for now. i'm chris hansen. for all of us at nbc news, thanks for joining us. it was just a burnt cigarette, but maybe the answer to a mystery. her name was christy. >> i thought she can't be dead. >> just 25 when she was murdered. >> she was nude. she was bleeding from the head. >> but without much to go on, the case soon grew cold. so few clues except for that cigarette. was it left behind by her killer?
and how could you prove it? >> we had one chance to get this done. the detectives set a trap, but it's christy who cracks the case. christy really solved her own murder. the killer caught by the woman he killed "when the smoke clears." >> thanks for joining us. i'm ann curry. it was a crime that happened 20 years ago, but the detective in charge kept the cold case file right on the corner of his desk where he could reach it whenever the victim's family called. she was a young woman who had been murdered in her home and detectives thought they knew who killed her, but they had to prove it and they would, with the help of the victim herself. here's keith morrison. ♪ ♪ >> five to seven minutes, the time it takes for a cigarette to
burn. the time it takes to cover up a crime. will mark the time between life and death. it was mother's day weekend, 1989. the laos angeles suburb of whittier, that's when it happened in a condo, where they found at the heart of the mystery a smoke screen was it was. it was the start of the search that would go on 14 years, and the lead, who would have believed it? certainly not rhonda flemming and her 25-year-old sister christy who were scheduled to take their mom to a brunch that morning. we were going meet at my mother's house. i w i called and the line was busy. i called, called, called and it seemed strange.
so rhonda went to her mother's house anyway thinking her ungioer sister would show up. >> but christy wasn't there which was very unusual because she was always on time, never, ever late. and my mom hadn't talked to her. i called christie again. the phone is still busy. now i know something is wrong. >> panic now. rhonda called her father, bud fleming. he was divorced but raised both girls and kept close tabs on them, especially christie, who was single. >> he hadn't talked to her either. as soon as he hung up the phone from me, he drove to her house. he knew there was something wrong. >> rhonda followed him, found christie's car in its usual place but no christie. knocked on her door, no answer. then a neighbor managed to break in through a balcony and open the front door. >> i ran in the house, and i glanced over and saw her body
laying on the kitchen floor. i thought, she can't be dead. this just isn't happening. and i ran over to wake her up, and i stood over her, and i grabbed her wrist. and as soon as i touched her, i knew she was dead, and all i could think of was my dad coming in and seeing this. >> her father never did go inside, but a few minutes later, sheriff's homicide detectives did. >> she was nude. she was bleeding from the head, and there appeared to be blood on the kitchen floor as if some sort of struggle had taken place there. >> the murder weapon was in plain sight. a blouse stuffed in her mouth. she had been suffocated. and all around her signs of what looked like a home invasion robbery. >> her purse and the contents were strewn all over the living room floor. the drawers in the upstairs bedroom were pulled out. items that were in the drawers were thrown on the floor, on the bed.
>> the phone was off the hook. looked like it had been moved from its normal place. blood was smeared on several walls both upstairs and downstairs. and there was something in the kitchen just above christie's body that also caught detectives' attention. >> there was a cigarette butt that was found on the kitchen counter by the stove that had been placed there and had obviously burnt out. >> on the counter? >> yes, stained the counter as it burned, absolutely correct. >> they found several more cigarette butts in the crash can under the sink as well as a beer bottle in the living room. no surprise, however. christie drank occasionally, and the cigarettes were her brand. there were few other clues. the only fingerprints found were christie's, and no one in the condo complex heard or saw anything. strange, perhaps, given the level of violence. but who would want to kill christie fleming and why? she had always been extremely popular.
according to janice puchart who had known her since grade school. >> she had tons of friends. she had a big, big social life. she had a lot of guy friends. you know, just friends. >> and christie was doing quite well for herself, working for a big aerospace company. >> she had a lot going for her. i mean, she had blossomed into this beautiful person that was successful. she owned her own condominium. she had a new car she paid for by herself. >> successful, attractive, popular. but there was another part of christie's personality that became apparent the moment you met her. >> christie was real compulsive about things. she had this very compulsive behavior. >> christie was apparently a neat freak. i believe you call it obsessive compulsive. she was neat, clean. fastidious is probably the best way you could describe it. you could eat off the floor. >> you'd walk into her house. it was like a model home. nothing was out of place. she was constantly picking up
after everyone. >> in fact, detectives also found plenty of evidence of christie's clean and organized life. her closet full of clothes perfectly organized along with lists of every outfit and what to wear with them. even her jewelry box was in ideal order. not a bracelet out of place. but neatness wasn't christie's only compulsion. from an early age, she was also extremely security conscious. >> my dad raised both of us girls to be afraid, to be secure. he made sure we took every precaution to be safe all the time. >> christie lived in a gated complex and kept a loaded gun in her nightstand. she had two locks on her door, secure windows. it didn't make sense. if this had been a robbery,
surely there would have been some sign of forced entry. >> there's no broken door, no doorlock pried, no window broken. the house was locked. so, obviously, she let whoever in that did this. >> and given christie's obsession with security, this could mean only one thing. >> whoever killed her was somebody she knew. that was clear. >> shocking? yes, of course. but not necessarily to christie's father, as he told the news media right after the murder. >> christie was a very, very trusting girl. somebody could, a friend of hers or someone from work, or just a friend could come to the door, she'd open it for him. >> a friend? a colleague from work? was it possible christie fleming had been murdered by one of them? coming up, a critical clue based on something christie
didn't do that day, clean up. >> it suggested that the ashtray, the cigarettes, the smoking, all this happened at the time of the murder. >> she was powerless to clean that up. >> absolutely. >> because whoever helped her caused the mess killed her. >> excellent way to put it. >> when "the smoke clears." ♪ ♪ walk, little walk ♪ small talk, big thoughts ♪ gonna tell them all just what i want ♪ ♪ i said don't stop, don't stop ♪ ♪ don't stop talking to me [ male announcer ] the most headroom per dollar of any car in america. the all-new nissan versa sedan. from $10,990. innovation upsized. innovation for all. ♪ but my nose is still runny. [ male announcer ] truth is, dayquil doesn't treat that. really? [ male announcer ] alka-seltzer plus fights your worst cold symptoms, plus it relieves your runny nose. [ deep breath] awesome. [ male announcer ] yes, it is. that's the cold truth!
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los angeles, california. not so much a big city as a vast collection of suburbs, some with painfully crime-spattered histories. one of the least so inflicted is tucked away, quiet, safe, even quaint, the town of whittier, but murder, as we know, can happen anywhere, even in a high-security condo, even the young and attractive, christine fleming. christie's normally immaculate condominium was a blood-stained mess. and she famously neat and tidy in life lay dead in chaos, her personal belongings strewn helter-skelter across the counters and floors.
the local media jumped all over the story. >> the victim, a beautiful young woman in whittier. >> the fleming family struggled in the glare of television lights to cope with the loss of its youngest member. >> christie is my best friend. it affects my life a lot. >> i think about it daily. you look at other people that have brothers and sisters, and i don't anymore. i look at the news in a different way, where before i could watch tv and you could tell yourself, this isn't really real. this is just television, but it's not anymore. it's reality. >> detectives had one rather disturbing theory to go on. despite the murderer's clumsy efforts to make it look like a home invasion robbery, it was obvious the murder was not the work of a random stranger but someone she actually knew.
>> if somebody that had been calling her then suddenly is knocking on your door, you know who that is, you know. it's late at night. so it fits. so she would let them in to avoid disturbing the neighbors. >> in other words, there was no break-in. this girl was at home. >> and for all the chaotic appearance of robbery, nothing of value was taken. >> her credit cards were accounted for. i believe there was a small amount of cash that might have been taken from her purse. you would have expected a burglar, you know, to take everything in sight. >> and all that blood spatter on the walls, upon closer inspection, it just didn't look right, like it had been carefully smeared on. >> this was part of the murderer's plan to make it look like something that it wasn't, to try to confuse the issue and make it look like a stranger had come in, done a thrill killing, done a burglary. >> staging the scene. nobody fell for it. >> nobody fell for it. >> a staged crime scene and a sloppy one at that, further supported the cops' theory, random burglars don't cover up crime scenes.
also left behind, an empty beer bottle, a dirty ashtray and all those cigarette butts. remember, christie smoked. the cigarettes were her brand. but as detectives talked to christie's friends, as they learned just how compulsively neat she was, they began to see the cigarettes as a useful clue. >> constantly cleaning the floor, the counter, wiping it down, doing the dishes. and we can't have old trash laying around in there, so we've got to go empty the trash can right away. >> especially if the trash can contained cigarette butts. but this time christie did not do her usual cleanup. >> it suggested that the ashtray, the cigarettes, the smoking, all this happened at the time of the murder. >> but she was powerless to clean that up. >> absolutely. >> because whoever helped her cause the mess killed her. >> excellent way to put it. >> and there was something else even more significant about those five cigarette butts. they were sent to the crime lab for testing. it was able to extract a tiny bit of saliva from each one. this was before dna testing, of
course, but they were able to determine that three of the cigarettes could have been smoked by christie and two could not have been. were they smoked by the person she let in that night, and was that person her killer? >> the ashtray had ash residue in it, and it was on the floor by the table where it appeared there were two chairs that were out of place. it looked like there had been two people sitting there, they had been smoking, and something happened that caused that ashtray to be on the floor. >> it was quickly becoming clear that christie not only knew her killer, she knew him quite well. certainly enough to share a smoke and a beer with him before he took her life. but who? detectives started with the obvious, men she was dating or had been dating. >> there was a number of them, and they proceeded by finding them, talking to them, and as a result of their interviews, established that there was a
list of maybe three or four that were good possible suspects. >> each was questioned, submitted saliva samples, and was given a polygraph test, and within a few days, all dropped off the list of suspects. christie's father, bud, who had taught his daughter to be so security conscious, tried to help solve what he could not prevent, by hanging posters all over town. >> if anybody out there knows anything at all, i'm begging them to please come forward. we sure need the help. >> she was his baby. he was never the same. he used to be such an outgoing, fun-loving person, and this just totally changed him. >> he was just very heartbroken. it crushed him. it really crushed that man. >> was there anybody else bud fleming knew who could have committed the crime? perhaps someone on the fringe of his daughter's large social circle who had re-entered her life, and then ended it.
coming up, was there someone. a lost love found again. >> the last time i had seen him, he was a teenager. he was a teenage kid. it was hard for me to think of him as being a killer. >> a suspect emerges "when the smoke clears." is this a chevy volt? [ stu ] yeah. it's electric. i don't think so. it's got a gas tank right here. electric tank, right over here. an electric tank? really, stu? is that what you pour the electricity in? it's actually both, guys. i can plug in and go 35 miles gas free, or i can fill up and go a whole lot farther. is that my burger? oh. i just got bun. i didn't even bite any burger.
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the police say that this person that's committed this crime has told someone, somebody knows. all that person has to do is come forward. >> if only it were so easy. but day followed day, and nobody came forward, nobody at all, and none of christie's friends or neighbors saw, heard or knew a thing. detectives started out with a list of four possible suspects, men whom christie had dated, and each one of them was questioned,
their movements and alibis checked, and then one by one, they were cleared. but christie's father, bud fleming, remembered something. there had been a young man years earlier when christie was a teenager, but he had forgotten all about the kid, wouldn't have thought of him at all except a few months before christie was murdered. >> he gets a phone call one day. "hi, this is a voice from your past." bud's, like, "well, i don't have time for this. who is this?" he's like "it's me, it's art." >> art? who was art? he was arturo gutierrez, christie's high school sweetheart. >> they had a relationship. in fact, they had a sexual relationship, and apparently she became pregnant and ultimately had an abortion, ultimately they broke up, and there had been a number of years that had passed since he had been in contact with her. >> then there he was out of the blue on the phone with christie's father. >> he said, "i'd like to get ahold of christie. can you give me her number?" he said "why don't you give me your number and i'll have her call you."
>> i know my dad didn't want art back in contact with her. but it's hard for a father because a father wants his daughter to be happy. >> of course. >> so on the one hand, he knew that she loved the guy once upon a time, and he's probably thinking, oh, you know, if this is what she wants, i want her to be happy, but on the other hand, you're always protective of your kids. >> sure. what should a father do? he certainly didn't like the guy, but christie was a grown-up. it wasn't really his business anymore, so he passed on the number, and she dialed it. >> i know she was very curious. like, wow. i wonder how he is now. so you're not really that upset or nervous or anything. you're just -- >> and she wasn't. >> no. it was kind of flattering that somebody would look you up after many years. >> art told christie he was in the roofing business. he asked her to stop by his work site and say hello. >> she said "yeah, i went to meet art. he was telling me he's making all this money, he's got great
things going. and then he asked me for a ride." she said, "where's your car?" he said, "i don't have a car. i don't have a license because i have warrants." >> warrants? no car? no license? maybe art wasn't quite as successful as he claimed he was. and according to janice, he told christie something rather strange. >> i remember this so clearly, her telling me, "art's still telling stories. he said, you know, christie, god punished me. i could never have children because of you having that abortion." >> what she certainly did not know was that art somehow failed to mention he was actually married, and he had three children, and they were all living together, he and his wife and their kids, at his mother-in-law's house, conveniently close to christie's condo. >> apparently this art gutierrez had a habit of showing up at her apartment at 2:00 in the morning, all kinds of late hours. >> christie had casually mentioned it to a few friends,
but she apparently wasn't annoyed enough to turn him away. for whatever reason, she always let art in, and on occasion, he even spent the night. >> whatever the relationship was between the two of them was a secret from a lot of people. >> sure. did you even know about it at the time? >> i had no clue. >> she had not told you anything? >> no. >> detectives brought gutierrez in for questioning, and he was cooperative. he even admitted seeing christie for a while, but they had broken it off two or three months before the murder, he said. as for the night christie was killed? art insisted he was nowhere near the condo, and he could prove it. >> he had been with his wife that evening, that they had, i believe, gone to a party with some people. >> and his wife backed up the story. >> he was asked to take a polygraph. he did not want to take a polygraph.
he refused. >> gutierrez did, however, submit a saliva sample which was sent off to the lab for testing. and, indeed, it did match the saliva found on the butts of those cigarettes. this, however, was in the days before sophisticated dna testing could be done at labs like this. so all they could do was determine that the saliva was the same type, and millions of people had that type of saliva. so gutierrez couldn't be identified as the killer, but he couldn't be eliminated as a suspect either. it just didn't make sense, though. why would art kill someone he apparently cared for, a person with whom he wanted to resume a relationship? >> the last time i had seen him, he was a teenager. he was just a teenage kid. that's what i remembered. it was hard for me to think of him as being a killer. >> gutierrez was not arrested. why would he be? no real evidence, no motive, no case. the media's fickle attention soon skipped off to embrace some fresher outrage, overloaded
detectives were called to new crime scenes, and the christie fleming case, yesterday's news, faded from view. weeks passed, months, years. >> the more time that goes by, the more you feel like it's never going to happen. it's just hopeless, and you're going to just have to live with not knowing. >> and it wasn't made any easier when the lead detective retired. he hated leaving without solving the case, especially this case. >> he told me one day, he said, "i've got this old case that i'd like for you to be responsible with because i'd like to see this case solved." so that's how i got interested in it. and once i got interested in it, i was hooked. >> davis pored over it all, all the obsessive habits, the staged crime scene, cigarette butts, the secret return of the old boyfriend, art gutierrez. the solution seemed tantalizingly possible, yet just out of reach. and then three years after christie's death, davis heard
about a disturbing incident involving gutierrez and his wife. >> i guess he got upset with her over something, flew off the handle. he was described as having a really bad temper. pushed her down on the floor, grabbed a pillow, put it over her face and tried to smother her with it. >> davis then re-interviewed gutierrez. he gave the same story, denying everything. only his body language was a little more forthcoming. >> he acted about as squirrelly as you could possibly get. and by that, i mean, he was nervous. he didn't want to be there. he couldn't wait to get the interview over with. and after talking to mr. gutierrez, he stood out like a sore thumb. >> davis got a warrant to draw a blood sample. dna testing was possible by then but still not quite precise. and once again the saliva on two of the cigarette butts in christie's trash can could have been gutierrez's -- could have been. at that time it wasn't even as good as a fingerprint. >> no, it wasn't. >> did you arrest him?
>> no. >> and with that, the christie fleming case went cold again, and would stay that way unless davis could find something, anything, that would help solve the mystery. for that, it would take eight more years until a clever plan was hatched to trap the killer. coming up, the circle around a certain suspect begins to tighten. >> whether it be technology, whether it be a witness coming forward, you never lose hope on these things because you just never know when something is going to happen. >> "when the smoke clears." progresso. it fits!
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abusing eight young men. two university officials are facing charges for reportedly not reporting the alleged abuse. health experts are warning of another concern raised by the aging population. that would be a shortage of doctors. currently there's one geriatric doctor. more news later, now back to "when the smoke clears." the world was otherwise occupied in the years after christie fleming took the secret of her murder to the grave. the internet arrived. the clinton years came and went and 9/11. hybrid cars arrived and so did a remarkable breakthrough in that crucial crime-solving technology dna. mind you by 2002, 13 years after the murder, nothing much had happened to solve it, and christie's family was stuck in a long, grief-weighted purgatory
without answers. >> you have to tell yourself that god will take care of it. at some point, this person will pay for what they did. it's really the only way to be able to accept it. >> christie and rhonda's father, bud fleming, took it very hard. life didn't seem to be worth much to him anymore. >> he was under the care of a psychiatrist for the rest of his life and never recovered from it. he really -- he really aged. it really took its toll physically, mentally. >> really only about one thing kept him alive. persistently and politely, bud and rhonda nudged detective davis. >> rhonda, i remember, would call me probably twice a year, about every six months. and she'd ask me, "hey, steve, you know, what's going on with this case? you know, i'm just calling to
see if there's anything new." >> he'd say, "rhonda, this file is on the corner of my desk. years later this file is on the corner of my desk. i never forgot about it." >> you never lose hope on these things because you just never know when something is going to happen, whether it be technology, whether it be a witness coming forward, whether it be this guy doing something else to, you know, hurt his case. >> yeah. and sometimes it can be as simple as a chance encounter, a fresh perspective, or in this case, a deputy district attorney named john lewin who took special pleasure in unlocking the secrets of old and unsolved cases, and there was something quite unusual about this one that caught lewin's eye, which he mentioned to lead detective steve davis. >> steve had kind of been through the ringer in terms of work that he had done in the past and the case not getting to the point of being able to be filed. so i told him from the start, "listen, i'm very interested.
habit and custom evidence tells me that we can do this." >> habit and custom evidence? that said lewin was christie's obsessive/compulsive personality. what stood out for him, like some accusing finger pointing toward her killer, was christie's insistence on perfect order, neatness, cleanliness, which is why when he saw the report that those cigarette butts had been found right there at the scene of the murder, he might just as well have said, eureka! >> there was no question that the cigarettes were being smoked at or near the time that she was killed and that the person whose dna was on the cigarette butts in the trash can was her killer. >> why no question there was smoke by her killer? because had it been someone else earlier that day, even a few minutes earlier, christie's compulsion for cleaning would have kicked in. she would have scooped up the butts and put them promptly in the outside garbage can. and one of the cigarettes had been left on the counter to burn down to its filter.
some more ordinary smoker might have left it there for an hour or a day or more. but not christie fleming. they sent those butts to the sheriff department's crime lab, ordered the most sophisticated tests available and waited. and this time the result was perfectly clear. >> it positively identified art gutierrez as the suspect. >> without any doubt. >> without any doubt. >> and again, it comes back to her habits and customs. when art was talked to originally, he said he hadn't been there for two to three months. now, maybe at my house cigarette butts would be in the trash can for two to three months, but not christie. >> uh-huh. >> those were there that night. >> but there was still one little problem with this case. the cigarette butts only placed art gutierrez at the crime scene. they didn't prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he actually killed christie fleming.
the d.a. and the detective needed something else to hang the murder on him. short of a confession, was there any way to get gutierrez to incriminate himself without him knowing about it? oh, yes, there was. but it would require an inventive sting operation female detectives channeling an old tv show, a pen, no perp should ever try talking to, and it would happen right in the middle of mr. gutierrez's front yard. coming up -- setting a trap. >> when we get there, our adrenaline is pumping. this is a homicide suspect. we had one chance to get this done. >> to catch a killer "when the smoke clears." [ man ] i got this citi thank you card and started earning loads of points. you got a weather balloon with points? yes, i did. [ man ] points i could use for just about anything. ♪
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she was just 25 when she was killed. now all these years later when christie fleming would have been approaching middle age, her family got astonishing news. the long stalled hunt for her killer was on again. >> i didn't want to get my hopes up, but i thought, wow! this is just incredible. >> but there was still a potentially fatal weakness in the case. dna certainly put art gutierrez, christie's former boyfriend, in her condo, and her compulsion for neatness strongly suggested art's visit occurred just before the murder. but that by itself didn't prove he killed her. one thing that could help persuade a jury that gutierrez was, indeed the killer, and that was a suspected lie he had repeated to detective davis. the last time he saw christie, he had said, was about two to three months before her murder and never once after that. trouble was, none of that was on tape. the jury wouldn't be able to hear gutierrez tell his incriminating lie.
>> there's an instruction that jurors are given that basically says that any unrecorded statement of the defendant you are to view with caution. you know, that's a hurdle. >> sure. >> so, in these cases at the very least i'm going to want to go back and get this person on tape and at the very least, at least have them confirm what they said previously. >> kind of locking him into something. >> absolutely. >> perhaps even a jury hanger, especially given the circumstantial nature of this case. getting gutierrez to talk, locking him into a statement on tape for a jury to hear was essential. what would you hope he could say? >> well, at least, if nothing else, to, you know, recount his story and, you know, generally people who lie can't keep their story straight. >> so you want to get a lie on tape to compare it to other lies? >> compare it to the original statement, correct.
>> but how and who would do it? loosening up art gutierrez after 13 years and getting him to come clean to a veteran cop hot on his tail, that was almost certainly a nonstarter. >> and so the idea that we had was to, let's try to bring in a couple of detectives. let's go with female detectives who are much less threatening, much more disarming. >> and, in fact, davis happened to know two women cops who seemed perfect for the job. savvy, cool, attractive, both had a knack for helping suspects calm down and getting them to open up. sheryl comstock and diane harris. >> by lying from the very beginning about where he was, it showed that he had a guilty conscience, and that's very significant. if he had been with her the
night before and left prior to, and he didn't have anything to do with the murder he should have said something to law enforcement. he should have said something to the investigators because you'd think that he would want to help the investigators find out who killed christie if he cared about her. if he wasn't involved in the murder he would assist and that was not what he was doing. >> so harris and comstock went to work, studying the case and learning all about arturo gutierrez. knowing who they were dealing with would help determine how to handle him. >> i think the best, you know, thing that they had going for him is he was less threatened by them versus, he knows i'm the guy that was handling the case, and probably felt that i was the guy that was out to get him. >> when you think of strategies and that's why i love cold case. you are only limited to your imagination and ethically what
you're allowed to do. when you're figuring out, my goal is to have this guy talk to somebody, what's the best way to do it? >> if you're talking to someone who is not very educated, you talk to them in a specific way, but arturo gutierrez was a seemingly normal, family man with a job. he was an intelligent man and a seemingly good-looking man and a suspect who thought of himself as a laids man. >> and so they hatched a plan inspired by an old tv show about two unconventional detectives, and we thought we were going to be ditsy blond investigators and that was the impression that we wanted to give arturo that we were just doing a routine follow up that we were doing this on a bunch of other cases. this was no big thing. >> keep it simple, they decided. casual, slightly flirtatious, very routine.
and so on a bright saturday morning in march, harris and comstock hit the road, driving to the desert outside los angeles where gutierrez now lived. >> we had one chance to get this done, because once he finds out that he's being focused on in the murder investigation, he's not going to talk to law enforcement. he's going to get an attorney, and then we've lost our only chance. >> harris and her partner, calm as they can muster, walk up the path to art gutierrez's front door. one chance to make it happen. >> when we get there, yes, our adrenaline is pumping. this is a homicide suspect. >> her fear. if they don't get this right, the investigation is finished, art gutierrez walks. justice for christie fleming and her family, out of reach forever. coming up, the smoking gun. >> are you a smoker?
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a tiny tape recorder, a microphone disguised as a pen, a cardboard binder, these were the tools that undercover detectives diane harris and sheryl comstock would use to capture a crucial interview with arturo gutierrez, the prime suspect in the murder of christie fleming. in the southern california desert town of perris, the two detectives rolled up to gutierrez's house unannounced. their excuse? they tell him they were conducting a few perfunctory interviews before filing away the old case for good. their plan, to charm him into talking, catch him in a crucial lie, get it on tape.
>> instead of fear, i would just say that what i was feeling was excitement, and i was a little on edge. but you have to kind of keep all that down so that it doesn't show through the facade you're putting on. >> the surveillance van was nearby for backup, the tiny tape machine rolled. >> i'm detective comstock, this is detective harris from the sheriff's department. >> how you doing? >> nice to meet you. >> and you like art or arturo? >> it doesn't matter. >> he seemed like a really nice guy. if you were to just meet him on the street, you wouldn't think, my, god, this guy's a murderer. >> they started, the two undercover cops, with idle and innocuous conversation, friendly to put gutierrez at his ease. >> do you -- are you a smoker? >> yes. no, not anymore. cigarettes, no. >> you used to be? >> yeah. >> you wised up? >> oh, yeah. a long time ago. >> that's good. >> when he was talking to the detectives, he reminded me of eddie haskell from "leave it to
beaver." >> god darn, i can't even remember when it was. dang, i was working at a roofing company. >> he was like good morning, mr. cleaver, good morning mrs. cleaver. my, mrs. cleaver, you look lovely today. is the beav around? very insincere and appeared to be kissing up and not being his true self. >> then a few minutes in, detectives asked the crucial question. >> and you had given a statement about, uh, you had seen her, i think it was several months before was the last time you saw her several months before the murder? >> yeah, i think six to eight months, something like that, i believe. >> and that was prior to her murder? >> yes. >> six to eight months before the murder. there it was. the boldface lie detectives wanted. gutierrez's story, now preserved on tape for a jury to hear, contradicted the quiet and unassailable truth of the crime scene, the dna. he was at christie's condo the
night she was killed. just to make sure, they repeated the question twice. >> and so we got what we wanted. let's just see if we can get a little more. would there be any explanation as to why your dna would be found in her apartment at the -- at the actual -- the morning of the crime scene? >> hell, i don't know. no, there wouldn't be any reason why. i mean, hell no. if i were -- you're saying i was there that morning? >> no, i -- i'm asking you -- >> oh, i -- i don't know. i don't really know. but they got it, i'm pretty sure there would be a reason. i mean, i went there, i slept in her bed. >> so that could have been left from several months ago when you were there? >> yeah. it could have been. >> then these pleasant attractive police women said their good-byes to a man who had no idea what he had just given them. >> the only reason why he would lie like that is if he had something to do with the murder. when we walked away, it was, yeah, we got him.
this is our guy. there's no question about it. >> and just like that, a dead, old case was fully reborn. now the man steve davis had been chasing all these years could finally be arrested. >> you're a free man. you think you got away with it, and then all of a sudden, they drop the hammer on you. >> it was davis who called christie's sister, rhonda, and her father, bud. >> i mean, i just can't even describe to you what a feeling that was for both of us that that had happened. in fact, the very day the detective called me and said, "we just picked him up. he's under arrest for murder," unbelievable. >> but even though art gutierrez was sitting in jail, awaiting trial for murder, davis felt obliged to warn the family that convicting him might not be so easy. >> a circumstantial case is a very tough case to get a conviction on. i mean even with the dna it didn't suggest necessarily that he was the murderer.
>> but there was, remember, that one very important factor, the strange little twist that first attracted deputy d.a. john lewin, christie's compulsively obsessive neatness. at trial lewin presented a theory of what happened. that gutierrez came over late that evening, that christie, as usual, let him in, that they shared a couple of smokes and a beer. but then, said lewin, something happened. an argument. an accusation. >> christie confronted him with the fact that she knew that he was married or believed that he had lied. >> which is when, said lewin, gutierrez lost his temper. >> i think that art hit her. he was faced with a choice of what he was going to do. and i think he made the conscious decision at that point that you know what? i'm going to kill her. >> death by suffocation is not quick, nor is it merciful. the grisly work takes five to seven minutes, the time it takes
for a cigarette to burn down. and in each second of those minutes that tick by, as christie fought for her life, gutierrez had the option of simply letting go. >> and for some period of time where he made the obvious choice to continue, he could have stopped, and he didn't. and ultimately she paid the price. >> i don't believe he went over there to kill her. i never did. i never argued to the jury that he did. but there's a point in time where he made the conscious decision -- he says, you know what? here's where i'm at. and this is what i have to do. and he carried through with it. >> and what does that make it? >> that makes it a first-degree murder. >> and how could the jury know? the dna put him there that night. the tape-recorded lie revealed a guilty conscience. still, when the jury retired to consider a verdict, and the first full day dragged by with no verdict -- >> i was scared to death they
were going to say not guilty. looking at the jurors' faces, i just couldn't tell where they were going. >> it took them a day and a half. arturo gutierrez was found guilty of murder in the first degree. a secret preserved by a cigarette for 14 years finally produced justice, that and a detective's determined patience. >> any time you convict a murderer, that's a good thing. but when you convict somebody that you know has gotten away with it for 14 years, that's a long time. and so to finally see justice served, that's a good feeling. >> bud fleming did not quite live to see it happen. his early death made for a gaping absence at the trial. did it hasten his death? >> absolutely. he really aged, really took its
toll physically, mentally. he wasn't a healthy guy. and then, of course, all these years going by thinking that art got away with this. >> but he did live long enough, said rhonda, to see his daughter's killer arrested and charged, long enough to know his daughter would not be forgotten. >> christie really solved her own murder. without christie's obsessive compulsive personality, this case never would have been solved. never. >> it's not often a case this cold will ever see justice. then again, it's not too often either the victim herself can finally help crack a difficult case. >> and for more on the story you can log-on to our website at msnbc.com. that's all for now.