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tv   Dateline Extra  MSNBC  June 30, 2018 10:00pm-11:00pm PDT

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>> and on that note, that does it for me, catch me on social media and tune in at 5:00 p.m. eastern. you can catch "the beat,"
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a shared song, a favorite movie, orrer maybe a special place. steven said for him and his wife, jodi, this was it. two rocks assuring a lover's chair in front of a cliff. >> that was our spot, we brought a hibatchi a couple lawn chairs and a cooler, and she'd bring her work from graduate school. >> they have been escaping to >> they had been escaping to
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this magical place for years, ever since they were newlyweds in a starter apartment in new jersey. up here the air was fresh, and the views seemed limitless. >> it was sort of framed by trees. you could look down to the right and see the view of george washington bridge. >> what they couldn't see from here, of course, was the future. had they caught even a glimpse of what was to come, surely they would have abandoned this place forever. >> steven and jody met in the late '70ness georgia. he was in the army, a book worm who loved the civil war. she taught history. theirs was a meeting first of minds, then hearts. >> how would you sort of describe those early years? were they loving? were they exciting? >> yes. they were, you know -- we were in love. it was ecstatic. >> from there, marriage, a house, a son jonathan in 1983. >> how would you describe jody
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as a mom? >> she was really devoted. >> life was good. even as the years went by, even with the demands of work and family, stephen says he and jody still made time for each other. like that last summer sunday in september of 1992. stephen says it was supposed to be a date night. >> it wasn't -- no idea that that would be the most critical day in our life, in our marriage. >> it was a day like any other day. >> yes. >> here was the plan. husband and wife would drive into manhattan and go to a comedy club, a light-hearted night on the town, but they made a detour here to the palisades, to their spot. stephen remembers pulling up to the scenic lookout, sitting in the car with jody, sharing a wine cooler. >> there were other people there sitting in their cars. we walked up, looked over the spot where the binoculars are
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and walked up to the sort of open view. >> he says they then turned and took a narrow, well-worn path to those rocks. they sat there as the night fell around them. he with his back against the rock, holding her as she sat directly in front of him. >> at some point something goes terribly wrong. >> yes. >> he says he stood up intending to go back to the car to get wine and a blanket. for whatever reason, jody stood up too. the edge of the rock was at her feet. >> what was your last glimpse of your wife? >> just standing up and, you know, as -- stumbling forward. >> jody had gone off the cliff. >> i didn't know how bad things were, but i was stunned. i -- >> what did you do? >> i got -- i got down on my
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stomach, i stuck my head over the -- and i just yelled. jody! jody! talk to me. i just yelled down there. >> but no response. he grabbed a flashlight and flagged down a motorist who came here to the palisades interstate parkway police station. lieutenant walter seary was on duty. >> until he came through the door it was a very quiet night. then all hell broke loose. >> the frantic man was telling them a woman had fallen from the lookout above and that her husband was waiting for help. the police called in michael chiofi, an experienced climber. >> i was there as a rescue mission. i thought she was alive. >> he began to lower himself off the side of the cliff where the woman's husband said she had fallen. about ten feet down he caught sight of a ledge. >> i minute i got to the ledge i observed the purse, i think two credit cards. >> on a ledge ten feet down. >> right. >> it was what he didn't see that confused him. there was no sign that the woman's body had also hit that
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ledge or any part of the cliffs. >> nothing. no blood, no hair, no clothing, no fibers, no skin. >> by that point, officer walter seary had arrived at the lookout. since there was nothing the husband could do to help in the rescue, they took him to police headquarters. on the way stephen recalled the awful moment when his wife disappeared. >> we were walking. she said for me to go back in the car and get the blanket and she slipped and i didn't see her anymore. >> as seary and the man arrived at the station chofi made it to the base of the cliff. he expected to find a wounded woman there, but he didn't. >> i am saying, she is not here. at the first point i said, maybe this is a hoax. maybe she never really went off the cliff. >> he and another rescuer began to walk along the base, pointing
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their flashlights north. finally, about 30 feet away, the beams landed on something white. it was jody, lying motionless next to a tree. >> there was a lot of blood on that tree. the blood was actually draining down the tree. that's where a severe impact took. that's where she really -- >> jody scharf had not survived the fall. to chiofi it was clear she had slammed into that tree. as they began to move the body, he noticed something else. >> she had an odor of an alcoholic beverage that emanated from her body. >> so when you smelled that, did you think, well, maybe she had had too much to drink and fell? >> that entered my mind, yes. >> at that moment, stephen scharf was sitting in a room at a police station waiting for someone to tell him what happened to his wife. >> do you remember what's going through your mind at that point? >> how badly is she hurt. where is she? why isn't she calling back to
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me. >> that's when an officer walked into the room and broke the news to stephen. jody was gone. >> i don't even remember who came in and told me. >> what was your reaction? >> denial. it was how could this -- how could this happen. >> that question would haunt him and many others. and it would take years for the answers to finally come. >> coming up. >> he was rubbing his eyes to make it look like he was crying. >> you thought he was faking tears? >> absolutely. >> curious behavior puts a husband under the microscope. when "dateline" continues. to c? its show of strength... or its sign of intelligence? in crossing harsh terrain... or breaking new ground? this is the time to get an exceptional offer on the mercedes of your midsummer dreams at the mercedes-benz summer event, going on now. receive up to a $1,250 summer event bonus on select suvs.
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it was the worst night of his life. and now stephen scharf, in the early morning hours of september 21st, 1992, had to tell his 10-year-old son jonathan his mother was dead. >> i said, come on, jonathan, we need to take a walk. and i told him. he immediately burst into tears. and i cried. i cried like a baby. i wasn't ashamed. >> he remembers his distraught son's reaction but little else from those dark hours. >> were you sleeping? were you eating? >> drinking. >> you were drinking. >> i had lost my wife. my son lost his mom. >> there was plenty of sympathy among family and friends, to be sure. for the man newly widowed with a small child to raise on his own.
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his wife had died in a freak accident, off a cliff, of all places. how could that happen? and that's exactly what police who were there the night of jody's death wanted to know too. >> right away i got a feeling that there was something definitely wrong. >> it nagged as rescuer michael chiofi. why was jody's purse on a ledge just feet below where her husband said she had fallen? >> where is she? she should be here. part of her should be here. >> that's the first thing that came to you. >> either she should be here or the pocketbook should be down with her. it wasn't fitting. >> another thought dawned on him. if jody had tumbled, why hadn't she hit the side of the cliffs? there was no blood or hair anywhere on the rocks. and the location of jody's body seemed off to chiofi. way off. >> she was like 30 to 40 feet away from us to the north. a person falls off the cliff,
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usually they're going to go south or they're going to go right down. they should have been right down where i got off the ropes. that's where she should have been. >> someone else was scratching his head about that night for different reasons. it had to do with stephen's behavior while the search was under way. officer walter seary was surprised stephen was willing to leave the lookout as rescuers were still looking for jody. >> did he give any indication, "i don't want to leave. my wife could still be alive down there?" >> not at all. >> seary says he couldn't believe how willingly stephen scharf got into his patrol car. >> if it was my wife, girlfriend, whoever, they would have had to pry me away from the scene if i was still at the top of the cliffs. >> he willingly got into your patrol car. >> when the officer heard stephen describe how his wife had fallen he made a mental note. >> there was no emotion in it at all. like he was reading a script. >> did it occur that maybe he
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was in shock? >> no. i have seen people who have lost loved ones and i have never seen anyone react that way. >> it was a particular moment later, inside the station house, that really caught the officer's attention. >> he asked if he could get a drink from the water fountain. he was looking over his shoulder while he was splashing water up into his eyes to make it look like he was crying. >> you thought he was faking tears? >> absolutely, absolutely. >> a death scene where the pieces didn't connect. a husband who appeared nonchalant. from a cop's point of view, things were adding up and not in stephen's favor. >> not just one thing. it was like the totality of the circumstances. everything -- every little thing was clicking in my mind. i am saying to myself, you know, this isn't right. something is wrong here. >> gut instinct is one thing, but evidence is quite another.
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people handle terrible events in different ways. the police are paid to be suspicious. maybe their view of stephen was too jaundiced. there really was nothing to indicate that jody's fall was anything but an accident. a few months later the ruling was in. the bergen county medical examiner concluded the manner of jody scharf's death could not be determined. an accident was as likely as anything else. case closed. or was it? >> the suspicions grow. was there a weapon at this romantic rendezvous? >> coming up. >> wine, cheese, crackers, claw hammer. >> if red flags are going up, they reach the top of the pole at that point. >> when "dateline" continues.
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jody's death on these cliffs had been a horrible accident. her husband said so. and the medical examiner wasn't arguing with him. but detectives have a kind of sixth sense about cases.
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it was telling james linum something sinister had just happened. >> you didn't think this was a horrible accident. >> no. >> there wasn't any smoking gun really. just something dark linum thought he could read between the lines in the police notes he reviewed the day after jody's death. >> he did not react like somebody who had just lost his wife should have reacted. >> and so the detective moved his investigation from the physical evidence to the less tangible clues. he quickly learned from jody's friends that this was a couple not in love but in crisis. the subject wasn't wine and roses on those cliffs. it was divorce. >> she was going to go through with it, yes. absolutely. >> jody's long-time friend told detectives that jody had been determined to take her 10-year-old son jonathan and leave her husband. she was convinced stephen had been cheating on her. >> she couldn't prove anything, but women called the house.
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sometimes they would call and hang up on her. >> in fact, linum learned jody had served her husband divorce papers on september 8, 1992. less than two weeks later, she was dead. at the base of the palisades. the timing made him even more eager to talk to the widower scharf. >> there was a sit-down with mr. scharf. he has consented to talk, right? >> yes. >> two days after his wife's death, stephen scharf was freely answering detectives' questions. yes, he told them, he and his wife were talking divorce. as they had sometimes done during their tempestuous marriage. and it was true, there were other women. >> he told us he had -- they had an open marriage, they were seeing different people. he actually said he had been with like 50 to 60 women. >> she was okay with it according to him. >> according to him, yes. >> but he told detectives he and
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jody had become unhappy with their free love life-style, so they came to this romantic, if treacherous spot, to recommit to each other, stephen said, to kiss and make up. >> the spot where they went is not a spot where you would go to reconcile with anybody. >> detectives were not buying the story for another reason. they had found something suspicious inside scharf's car. a bag filled with items you would expect for a romantic picnic and one you would not. a hammer. >> you have your wine, cheese, crackers, opener, claw hammer. i mean, if red flags are going off, they reach the top of the pole at that point. >> did you think that might be a murder weapon? >> i thought that might have been plan a. he didn't use it, so he went to plan b. >> which linum believed was to push or throw jody off that cliff. so detectives asked stephen scharf the obvious. what was a hammer doing in that picnic bag? >> he told us he fixed a drawer
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in his kitchen with the hammer and he just forgot to put it back in the garage. he put it in the bag with the picnic items. it was a convenient excuse for having the hammer. >> detectives asked to check out the drawer and the rest of the how is that night. he agreed. as it turned out something more telling was happening away from the action. >> i said look, mr. scharf, i am your local police department. >> ed, a local police officer, was told to keep an eye on stephen scharf that night as detectives combed through his house. the officer says he began talking to stephen about what had happened to jody when stephen interrupted him. >> he finally looks at me and he goes, you don't believe me. >> then the officer says scharf said something that almost knocked him off his feet. >> i said, i believe an accident occurred. i said, was it an accident? and he put his head down and he
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said no. >> he believed that was a stunning confession. he ran to tell the other detectives, including linum. but they had just spent hours grilling the man. >> we weren't getting that feeling, that a re-interview at that point would have done anything. >> the detectives still believed they could find solid evidence to implicate stephen scharf, but they didn't. >> we took it as far as we could go. there hadn't been -- the cause of death at that time was listed as undetermined. so officially it wasn't a homicide. >> in time, detectives moved on to other cases, stephen scharf moved on too. 14 years after his wife's death, he remarried. tina scharf says he has been a loving, ideal husband. >> it was like we were two puzzle pieces that were made for each other where we just -- each of us complemented and completed the other person. >> but even in this happy, new life, he says, he has never forgotten about jody. but he might have been surprised to learn that someone else was thinking of her too, after all
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these years. bergen county had a new prosecutor, and he was eager to revisit old case files. among them, an unexplained death here on the cliffs of the palisades so many years ago, the death of jody scharf. >> there is this renewed push since 2002 to look into the cold cases. >> he covered the trial for the record newspaper in new jersey. on one hand, he says, it didn't seem the prosecutor had any reason to pursue the cold case. >> in terms of hard evidence, it had absolutely nothing new. >> but the prosecutor did have someone new. a famous name to join the investigation into jody scharf's death. dr. michael baden, a world renowned forensic pathologist who investigated the deaths of john f. kennedy and john belushi and testified at the trial of o.j. simpson. he was about to turn up the heat on a very cold case. >> dr. michael baden has
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reviewed the evidence and has determined that this could not have been an accidental fall. >> in december of 2008, detectives paid one more visit to stephen scharf. >> they wouldn't tell me what it was for. i had no idea what this was about. i mean, it didn't make sense. >> 16 years after that fatal night on the cliff, police were back and stephen scharf was in for a shock. >> after all these years, you thought it was done. >> not until they reached behind and handed me this thing, this arrest warrant. coming up, the case heads into court with a surprise from the stand. >> i hear from my mother. >> stephen and jody scharf's only son has some dark secrets to share. >> did you see that abuse? >> i did. >> when "dateline" continues.
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what stuck in his mind -- >> in every murder trial, time is an invisible but crucial player for both sides. >> 16 years. >> sometimes it hurts a case. memories fade. evidence is lost. witnesses die. but time can also put evidence in a new light. such was the case in the trial of stephen scharf, accused of killing his wife nearly two decades ago. >> there is no statute of limitations on murder. >> the prosecutor promised the evidence would tell a story as simple as it was brutal. a husband, determined to avoid a costly divorce, lured his wife to the edge of a cliff and forced her off it. >> if he has lied, he is guilty. >> the state marshalled some familiar facts to tell its story. starting with the crime scene. where the prosecutor said the cliffs showed no sign of an accidental tumble. >> no debris, no blood, no hair, no tissue.
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>> then, the husband himself. cool and collected in the back of a police car. >> i didn't see any emotion from him at all, sir. >> who later confessed, the prosecutor said, to killing his wife. >> and then i said. it was an accident? and he said, no. >> but those facts were not where the case ended. the prosecutor argued that they simply set the stage for the real case. a story told by the victim's friends, family, and most importantly, by a star witness. >> my opinion is that the manner of death is homicide. >> dr. michael baden, the famous forensic pathologist, told jurors the crime scene spoke of a murder, not an accident. >> if a person falls accidentally, the individual will be, you know, within a couple of feet of the base of the building. >> and that didn't happen in the case of jody scharf. her body landed 50 feet out from
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the top of the cliff. and 30 feet to the north. >> she had to have been propelled from that point. >> jody had to have been thrown or pushed to her death, he said, and likely from another spot entirely on those cliffs. he wasn't the only expert who saw it that way. >> -- the head and chest injuries are not consistent with someone that tumbles down the cliff face. >> dr. mary anne clayton was the bergen county medical examiner who first ruled the circumstances of jody's death could not be determined. now, on second look, she said, the victim's wounds, or lack of them, told her something different. something vital. if jody had tumbled innocently down the palisades, she would have had broken bones everywhere. she did not. >> there were no visible injuries on the back of mrs. scharf's body. >> why would stephen have killed his wife?
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the biggest reason, the prosecutors argued, was that stephen did not want a divorce. he didn't want a custody fight and he didn't want to split assets with jody. and there was yet another motive for stephen said the prosecutor. a potential payout. >> usaa life insurance company. >> an insurance representative testified about a $500,000 policy taken out against jody scharf months before her death. payable to a primary beneficiary. >> can you tell us the policy owner. >> stephen f. scharf. >> jody scharf was simply worth more dead than alive. her friend, mary anne hilferdi testified that jody feared stephen might do something violent if she pushed for that divorce. even so, she was going to get away from her husband. >> she was going to have divorce
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papers served on stephen, and she was very afraid of him. >> yet, was stephen violent enough to kill his wife? an unlikely but powerful witness was about to testify against stephen scharf. >> i hear from my mother. >> his own son took the stand against him. now a businessman, jonathan scharf painted his father as an angry, violent man who terrorized his mother. >> did you see that abuse? >> i did. >> jonathan scharf said he realized his father had likely killed his mother only after that arrest in 2008. this videotaped interview shows him recalling the dark past for the first time to police. >> she got coffee thrown at her. >> now, in court, he had even more to tell about his
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childhood, like the afternoon he sat cowering in the back seat of a car, watching his mother suffer. >> my mom was driving, and my dad was hitting her with the bottom of his fist. and i was just like begging him to stop doing it. >> he also remembered the last day of his mother's life. he was 10. and said his mother told his father that she didn't want to go out with him alone. >> she said, if i wanted to go out with you, i wouldn't be divorcing you. >> but where was the proof that stephen had planned to kill jody that night? well, there was the hammer in the picnic bag. but there was also testimony from this woman. one of stephen's old girlfriends. >> i even mentioned to my girlfriend that it was a perfect relationship. >> terry schofield had been dating stephen months before jody scharf's death. >> did mr. scharf tell you whether or not he was married? >> actually, he said he was not married. >> and she remembered something
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strange stephen said to her on the beach over that labor day weekend. >> he was under a lot of stress, and the stress would be resolved by the end of september. >> two weeks later, jody scharf was dead. terry now sees that cryptic statement in a dreadful light. >> i was like, oh, no, the end of september. and then the light bulb went off immediately. >> it also went off for mary anne hilferdi. in perhaps the most chilling testimony of the prosecution's case, she told the jury that when she heard her friend was gone she immediately remembered something jody said weeks earlier. >> she said that, during this conversation i had with him, if anything happens to me, you will know who did it. she said, you will know it was him. >> the prosecutor's position was clear. a husband with a motive. the perfect setting. the violent intent to kill his wife. or, was there another way of looking at that couple perched high on those cliffs on a summer
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night? stephen's new wife says the prosecution has it all wrong. >> my husband is not capable. that is not the man he is. my husband is sweet, kind, loving. considerate. >> the defense was ready to show how stephen scharf, far from villain, was the real victim in this story. coming up -- >> they destroyed the crime scene area. >> new questions about the evidence. and was there another reason why a son might implicate his dad? >> who does the money go to? >> it goes to me. >> when "dateline" continues. what about him? let's do it. ♪ come on.
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stephen scharf is not guilty! >> 18 years after the death of his first wife, more than a decade after the investigation first stalled, stephen scharf was being called a killer. but his defense attorney, ed bilinkas, argued there was no new evidence in this case, no new eyewitnesses, only new opinions. >> we are talking about the same old facts and circumstances. >> bilinkas said the state was hoping to win a murder conviction by painting his client as a terrible husband, that it couldn't prove he was a killer in 1992 and it couldn't prove it today. >> my client, stephen scharf, has been wrongfully charged with
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her death. >> and one reason the prosecutor couldn't prove murder had to do with sloppy police work, the defense attorney said, suggesting it had been like keystone cops on the palisades that fatal night. >> you never photographed the body before you moved it, did you? >> no, sir. >> why didn't they take photographs? they destroyed the crime scene area. >> they didn't even bother to question potential eyewitnesses, he said. instead, they cleared visitors from the lookout. >> there might have been someone who saw something or heard something. >> there might have been. there is a possibility that might have happened. >> and if police were so suspicious of his client two nights later, the defense said, why didn't they videotape their interview with him. that way, jurors could have judged stephen scharf's supposedly odd demeanor for themselves.
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>> why didn't you? >> not an interrogation. he wasn't in custody. i don't know. >> the defense attorney also argued that police misinterpreted what his client said in his home just hours later. >> my client never said this wasn't an accident. >> and as for that hammer police thought was a weapon -- >> the hammer was examined by the forensic experts. there was nothing found on that hammer. >> and the defense attorney pressed the medical examiner on her flip-flop. undetermined manner of death in '93. now it was a homicide? really? >> are you trying to say that you are learning from your mistakes on this case? >> you may call them mistakes, sir. i did the best i could in 1992 documenting what i had observed with mrs. scharf. >> the medical examiner was helpful to the defense in one critical way, though. she determined that jody had been drunk the night she fell off the cliffs. jody had a blood alcohol level
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of .12. that was over the legal limit. >> would be equivalent to approximately four average-sized drinks, wine or beer, something like that. a drunken slip-and-fall, argued the defense. to back that up, the lawyer had his own heavy hitter. famed forensic pathologist dr. cyril wecht. wecht posted a resume of star-studded investigations too, as high profile as the prosecution's dr. baden. only wecht had a totally different take on how jody scharf died. >> i would call this an accidental death. >> in wecht's version which he demonstrated with, of all things, a teddy bear, jody fell off the cliff and on to jagged rocks just below, causing her mortal wounds. her body then catapulted. >> out goes the body and it hurtles into the air. >> into the tree canopy, into the abyss and into that distant tree.
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>> this is what i think happened to explain those injuries of the chest and of the head. >> but there was another bubble to burst in the prosecution's case. the motive for murder. stephen scharf wasn't a greedy killer. his client never made a claim on that insurance policy. it was only after the money was turned over to the state, years later, he said, that stephen scharf even bothered to collect. >> would it throw fuel on the fire not to do it? well, i know i look guilty. because i am guilty, i better not make this claim. >> you're damned if you do. you're damned if you don't. >> the other alleged motive, divorce, was flimsy as well, he said. jody and stephen had been talking breakup for years. those divorce papers, just the latest legal salvo in an ongoing marital spat.
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>> the prosecutor paints a picture of someone who, frankly, is furious about this divorce. >> no one person ever indicated that my client was furious over this divorce. they had talked about divorce for years. maybe she was, you know, saying one thing and not following through. >> though it is true stephen scharf did not want a divorce. he says he wanted to give the marriage another chance. and as for that former girlfriend, terry schofield, she recounted stephen's mysterious statement just before jody's death. >> just give me to the end of september and everything will be okay. the stress will be -- a lot of the stress will be gone. >> the defense attorney says that was stephen's clumsy way of trying to dump his girlfriends. and speaking of which, he added, those other women did not bother jody at all. she was seeing other people
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herself. >> the person on the bottom half in both of those is who? >> jody scharf. >> the recordkeeper of a dating service testified that jody's name was on an application. she even checked off the interests she would like to share with a mate. the attorney offered that as proof of stephen and jody's open marriage. but what really rankled the defense, what had torn at the heart of stephen scharf, was the testimony of his son, jonathan. >> remember her showing me her bruises. >> he had painted his father as a brute and, possibly, a killer. >> i never hit jody. it made me sick to my stomach. >> the young man wasn't to be believed, said the lawyer. for one thing, when police interviewed jonathan back in 2008, the young man described his dad as a good guy. >> i think he was a, you know,
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fairly decent, you know, fairly decent guy. >> it was only after detectives told him his dad had just been arrested that the son turned on his father. >> she got coffee thrown at her by him. >> before you found out that your dad was arrested, did you lie? >> yes. >> did you lie more than once? >> yes. why would jonathan turn on his father?
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>> as the husband knowing your wife was drinking -- >> the jury deliberated for three days to decide if he should be guilty or not guilty on a single count of murder. >> on behalf of murder, guilty. >> guilty. >> later jurors said what united them was jodey's friend, telling
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them that she was terrified of her husband. >> possibly she was telling everyone if something happened to me it's my husband. >> it was another woman in steven's leif that swayed the jury. >> that was something that pushed me towards what we decided in the end. >> it was the light bulb. >> to them, it wasn't jodey who slipped, but her husband. they believe it wasn't just a fall from the cliffs, it was a cold-blooded execution. steven sharp was sentenced to life in prison. he says the jurors condemned him not on the facts, but for his and jodey's tumultuous open marriage. >> so, you think this was a moral judgment -- >> yes. >> -- on the part of jurors? >> i suppose some people would say, well, he was punished for
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his moral's weakness. but this was a murder trial. >> but for the prosecutor, it's a fitting end to the story that's haunted him that night. >> this is something has never left me. it's been years. i went back there myself without people knowing it several times, because it bothered me, something was wrong. >> for close friends, the verdict does not remove the sting of the loss. >> i'm angry that he took the life of a beautiful person, that's what bothers me the most. that he would do that and think that he was going to get away with it. he wanted the insurance money, he wanted his son, he'd have the house, he could have whatever he wanted and she'd be out of the way. >> i think that was sad.
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>> that's all for this edition of "dateline extra" i'm craig melvin. thanks for watching. >> so many young women missing. one woman determined to find them. >> the numbers grew. the families hurt. >> she says i have some bad news for you. >> the reality is it was kind of like this is not happening. >> missing women.


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