tv Dateline MSNBC July 15, 2019 12:00am-1:00am PDT
the farmhouse empty. time was the farm land in horry county, some of south carolina's finest. bambi bennett's grand dad opened a big spread and created a legacy for the generations to come. >> that barn used to be tobacco barn and my grand daddy built this. >> it was tobacco property? >> he did farming and tobacco. >> bambi's roots here are as deep as the old oak tree draped in spanish moss that still stands tall if the front yard.
they say land is worth dying for because it's the only thing that lasts. and truer words might never have been spoken. in this case, a beautiful piece of land turned out to be nothing but trouble. this is where bambi bennett's family was ripped apart by an act of cruel, unspeakable violence. bambi, her given name, was a fun, feisty good-old girl, country through and through. >> i was at my grandparent's a lot growing up and we gardened and had a big yard, a huge gard. >> you are a country girl? >> uh-huh. >> but she endured her share of heartache even as a tender age. her parents divorced when she was just 6. mom remarried. then a few years later, came that terrible day she'll never forget.
>> my daddy and my grand daddy passed an i way on the same day. i was 12 years old. >> all of a sudden you lost the two important men in your life? >> uh-huh. >> it was a bewildering and tragic day. there was so much sudden loss to absorb that young bambi not yet a teenager paid no mind to her grandfather's and father's wills. but it turned out she'd been left the entire homestead. all 240 acres of it to be held in trust until she turned 18. not long after bambi inherited the farm, her stepfather charlie moved the family on to the property. her property. most everybody called him big charlie. bambi called him daddy. >> daddy loved hunting and fishing and he always had fish fries and oyster roasts. always people down at the barn. >> you call your stepfather daddy? >> uh-huh. >> easily do that. uh-huh. i have always called him daddy. >> big charlie was a deacon at church and he started a small
business selling and installing glass. converting the old tobacco barn into his shop. bambi's bomb diane worked as a secretary in the public schools. they were a respected, happy couple. salt of the earth. >> she was the backbone of that family. >> bambi's cousins jessica and amy loved their aunt diane. >> if your car literally stopped in front of their house or broke down, she would go and make sure you had a meal or you were warm and while she was doing that big charlie would be like fixing the car. >> good mom? >> fabulous mom. >> outstanding. >> i mean, her biggest thing was she wanted to make sure her kids were protected and their hearts were protected. >> and her daughter bambi would need a lot of protecting. the girl was growing up in a rush. married to her high school sweet heart and divorced after a few months. by the time she was just 24 years old, she had another
failed marriage and was strg ling as a ing l mom trying to raise two boys, cody and nathan. that had to be tough, keeping your household going, huh? >> yes. >> and things went from bad to worse. bambi started popping painkillers. the old story, huh? >> yes. >> gobbled them down. >> i liked the way it made me feel. >> bambi was a single mom hooked on pills and sitting on a piece of land worth a small fortune. diane decided it was time to introveen before, say, another whirlwind husband du jour got half the property. >> mama said if you put it in my name it will be protected. >> and so, she signed the deed to her property over to her mom. and then bambi signed over her heart. sending cody and nathan to be raised by their grandparents. she calls it her lowest point. >> i didn't want to do it but i knew it was the right thing. she wanted to take care of them. she loved chose children. >> it was a crushing loss, no
question, but bambi agreed at the time the boys were better off. they loved diane and charlie. >> they're just very loving, like a lot of outdoor stuff. they spoil us to death. >> nathan, how about you? >> the most loving individuals i've ever met in my life. my grandma's the most sweet woman and everybody says so. >> with the boys living at their grandparent's, bambi tried to get her own life back on track. that's when she metric gagnon, a new hire at the charlie glass company. there was an instant attraction. >> i've always liked the bad boy image, i guess, you know. like with the goatee and the shaved head. i don't know. we just had a good time together. >> was it a serious relationship? >> yes. it was. >> rick was serious, too. he confronted bambi about her demons. >> i told her, you know, she wanted to be in a relationship then she had to, you know, do something about the pills. >> by the spring of 2005, bambi
felt she had turned the corner. she and rick found a home of their own in myrtle beach. after a long struggle, she was ready to be a mom to her boys again. >> i was getting on my feet and i just -- i wanted cody and nate there with us. >> grandparents charlie and diane agreed very reluctantly to let the boys move in with bambi and rick. but no sooner had the boys moved than diane was making the case to get them back. >> mama was concerned. >> did she want to hold on to the boys? >> she said that she would like for them to, you know, to continue to stay with her. >> boyfriend rick thought bambi couldn't catch a break with her family. >> everybody pretty much treated bambi like crap. it stemmed from, you know, issues that diane and charlie and bambi had. >> those issues were simmering into an angry family drama. and then just a few weeks after the boys were turned over, it happened. it was april 12th, a tuesday morning.
bambi called her mom, no answer. big charlie was late for work. one of his barn employees went up to the house to look for him. moments later, he called 911. >> 911. >> she is laying on the floor, blood everywhere. >> blood everywhere? >> yes, ma'am. >> oh my god. >> inside, things were chaotic and appalling sight. big charlie and diane were dead. and the old farmhouse they loved so well was now a crime scene. at a grisly crime scene, some stray drops of blood might provide a big clue. >> someone was a bleeder. >> that's great evidence. >> it is if you can match it up. >> when "dateline extra" continues. there are three words that mean everything when you live with migraine... "i am here." aim to say that more with aimovig. a preventive treatment for migraine in adults that reduces the number of monthly migraine days.
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>> the horror discovered inside that farmhouse confused both the caller and the 911 operator. but what happened to charlie and diane was all too clear. she was found lying next to her bed. big charlie, sprawled on the bathroom floor. each had been shot multiple times, both by then dead for hours. the sheriff's cell phone erupted with calls about the shooting. and he rushed to the scene.
not to investigate. charlie and diane were his best friends. >> they weren't just mine, they were everybody's friends. what we remember is how good they were. how kind they were. and what good people they were. >> down at her house in myrtle beach about 30 minutes from the crime scene, bambi was getting ready to go antiquing with her mom. she called her cell. one of charlie's glass company workers answered. >> i said, can i speak to my mama, please? he said, bambi, your mama and daddy's dead. >> just like that? >> yes. and i said, what? he said, bambi, somebody's broke in here and killed them, shot them. and i just dropped the phone. and then started crying. >> when bambi arrived at the house, yellow caution tape blocked her way. police were everywhere. >> my mom was like freaking out. >> rick tried to comfort bambi.
young cody turned to him, too. >> then i remember rick, he was near me, and i was crying on his shoulder. and everybody was just kind of -- it was a madhouse that day. >> in those moments it seemed the whole county had gone mad. the murders of diane and charlie came hard on the heels of two other vicious killings nearby. the suspect, a man all over the news, named steven stanko, was still at large. >> they were looking for steven stanko when charlie and diane were discovered. >> vivian was charlie and diane's neighbor. she runs a flowershop nearby. >> is this the kind of thing that you could feel in the air? >> you could feel it in the air. i was at the flower shop. >> probably not too thrilled with the idea of getting in your car and driving away. >> i didn't even want to go home. it was pretty bad in horry county that day. >> when i first arrived, what i'm looking at is an opportunity to get oriented to the crime scene. >> the man responsible for
making sense of the crime scene was prosecutor fran humphries, then deputy chief solicitor for horry county. had the house been tossed, rifled? >> it had. this appeared to be a home invasion burglary. >> first take on it? >> it was a gruesome crime scene. the bathroom awash in charlie's blood. there was blood spatter in the bedroom where diane lay. but several feet from diane, there were notably a few small droplets. >> it appeared that someone involved in the crime, not the victims, was a bleeder. >> why couldn't that be from one of your two victims? >> it was apparent that charlie never left the area of the bathroom. and it was apparent that diane died where she lay. >> so it looks like your shooter, your intruder is bleeding. >> is bleeding. >> that's great evidence. >> it is if you can match it up. >> while crime scene techs process the house, investigators started taking statements. big charlie and diane had a large family and knew a lot of people.
>> we talked with everybody. the list of people that we talked to is exhaustive. >> a parade of friends, employees, and family was brought down to headquarters for interviews, including bambi and her boyfriend, rick. >> they did gunshot residue tests on all of us. >> including you? >> mm-hmm. >> they had me remove my shirt, lift my pant legs up. they took my shoes, took pictures of my shoes, tops, bottoms. >> both bambi and rick told police they had spent the night at home, never left. with the interviews complete, police drove rick and bambi back to the farmhouse. everyone was gone. bambi says she realized she had left her purse with her phone and car keys in the detective's cruiser. she decided she would take her mother's vehicle to get home. >> we didn't have any way to get in touch with anybody. we didn't have anything. and i told rick, i said, see if you can find mama's purse, her cell phone. and so he went in the house.
>> police had released the crime scene, but it still looked like one. detectives told the family they would have to clean it up. so when rick says he went in to fetch diane's car keys, he found himself tiptoeing through a bloody mess. what were you seeing? >> all the blood. just one of the most horrible things i'd ever seen. >> rick approached the bathroom where charlie had been killed. he says he noticed bambi through the window pacing in the backyard. >> she was calling out, mama, mama, crying and screaming. i stepped into the bathroom, trying to step around the mess as best i could and i shut the blind. >> you closed them because you didn't want bambi to see the blood and gore? >> that's right. i remember saying to bambi, i think i stepped in some blood in the bathroom and i was wiping my shoe off on sand. she was telling me to wash my shoe, so i didn't get blood in her mom's truck. >> that must have been eerie to be in that house that night. huh? >> yeah. extremely.
>> it was an eerie moment. one that would haunt bambi and rick for years to come. coming up, bambi makes a stunning admission. with advil, you'll ask... what sore muscles? what pounding head? advil is... relief that's fast. strength that lasts. you'll ask... what pain? with advil. that i won the "best of" i casweepstakes it. and i get to be in this geico commercial? let's do the eyebrows first, just tease it a little.
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>> the cold-blooded killing of big charlie and diane parker had a great many people in and around conway, south carolina, bolting their doors and locking their windows. had you had any trouble in that neighborhood in the countryside with break-ins? >> not that i know of. i mean, it's always been a wonderful place. it just doesn't make any sense. >> was this more of the murderous rampage of the notorious stephen stanko who was all over the news? no, said prosecutor fran humphries, who knew stanko had been sighted in georgia at the time of the murders 200 miles away. so this awful thing at the farmhouse, you weren't associating that with stanko? >> i was not. >> even in the public mind? >> oh, they did. but truly at that time, law enforcement knew that he was physically in augusta. >> rather, humphries focused on the evidence coming from the parker crime scene. he quickly came to believe this
was more than just a bungled home invasion. >> it was apparent that nothing had been taken, or at least nothing that you would suspect to be taken in a burglary. >> humphries thought back to some curious statements bambi had made in her interview with police when she said she had given willingly. >> you're sure you're okay to sit down -- >> i'm not okay but i want to help you. >> soon after the interview started bambi, he said, began describing in detail a feud within her family. at issue was the land bambi owned and that her parents were living on. >> there's been a long, like, family feud. >> right. over the land? >> a long time. >> according to humphries, bambi and diane argued over who should control that property. >> diane wanted to make sure that that property was there for the kids. i think she had become convinced that, you know, bambi was not going to be in a position to
manage that property. >> i love this girl, my daughter, but she's beyond hope, is that kind of the feeling? >> well, she just can't be trusted with it. >> bambi didn't agree. >> she wanted the property back. >> i had a lot of anger about that. >> but humphries learned the land wasn't the only hot button between bambi and her mother and stepdad. bambi admitted they also argued over the raising of bambi's boys, nathan and cody. >> were there any issues that your parents didn't want the kids to go back to you guys or anything like that? >> well, yeah. i understand my mama cared for them. and it was hard for her to give them back. at first we were angry at each other. being ugly at each other. >> diane just wasn't comfortable with bambi having custody of those children. >> in fact, just four months before the murders, a mother/daughter shouting match over the care for the boys got so out of hand that diane called 911.
the responding officer arrived with his dashcam rolling, just moments after bambi had stormed away. >> i'm sorry to bother you. >> you're not bothering me at all. >> diane explained the argument to the officer. >> she usually just does what she wants to do. picks them up when she wants to. she doesn't provide anything for them. >> diane went on to say she felt threatened by her daughter. >> she scares me. she got in my face and jerked the phone out of my hand when i was calling. >> then came this chilling pronouncement. >> if anything happens to me, you'll know that she's the reason. responsible person. >> how telling is that? she was in fear, grave fear. >> humphries by now suspected bambi was somehow involved in her parents' murders. but he was skeptical she could commit a double homicide on her own. so the prosecutor turned his attention to bambi's boyfriend. rick gagnon. >> he's aligned with bambi. he was extremely faithful to bambi. >> and according to humphries, willing to do anything for her.
you've got the daughter and boyfriend who seem to be in some sort of conspiracy? the theory goes. >> an agreement to accomplish a goal. >> the alibi bambi and rick gave detectives that they were at home during the hours leading up to the murders was difficult to prove. each gave the other as a witness. >> she said, we were at home. you know, rick was there, i was there, my boys were in the other room. >> the prosecutor began to wonder, could those mysterious blood droplets at the crime scene be linked to rick and bambi. >> dna results did not come back. >> you knew somebody else was in the house. >> it could have been rick. >> as humphries waited for the results, he obtained a search warrant and took another look at some of rick and bambi's belongings. including their shoes. >> there's blood on the shoe. >> what did the lab analysis say about that? >> it was big charlie's blood. >> the prosecutor didn't buy rick's story about having stepped in blood while looking for diane's car keys. they also found what they
believe to be blood on the boots. now you have two persons of interest? >> no question. >> ten days after the murders, humphries asked both rick and bambi to take polygraph tests. both agreed. and both showed deception. >> rick gagnon in particular showed deception. >> police then sat rick and bomb by down in separate rooms for another round of questioning. this time the gloves were off. >> you want to charge me with something? >> answer my question. >> i didn't do anything. >> they hoped for a confession or at the very least that she give up rick. she didn't do either. >> you don't want to be charged? >> no, i'm not going to be charged because i didn't do anything. >> lock her ass up. you're not going to tell us anything, lock you up. put handcuffs on her. charge her with two counts of murder. >> but the detectives weren't done yet trying to break bambi. on her way to her booking, bambi said the hammer came down hard one more time.
>> they surrounded me like a pack of wolves, and they said, go get those crime scene photos of her mama and daddy. and i said, no, no, no. and i was just trying to cover my face. and he was pulling my hands off of my face. and he said, you did this. you. >> detectives said the same thing to rick gagnon. >> they arrested me. that was pretty much it. if bambi did it, then i had to be a part of it. >> so there it was, a daughter and her boyfriend, partners in love and suspected of murder. the alleged motive was basic, get the deed to the land and resolve the custody issue of the boys in one bloody rampage. horry county could sleep easier at night with case closed. but was it case solved?
coming up, a new family feud breaks out between bambi and her sons. >> i had a lot of people in my ear saying she did it. i resented her. your best all summer long? start with supporting your gut health. only activia has billions of our live and active probiotics. so, let's make this the summer of loving your gut. activia. love for your gut. starting a business means i have to be well rested, every night of the month. always overnight pads have up to a 2x larger back for up to 10 hours of protection. it catches leaks, so you can catch zzzzs. because my morning starts, before morning starts. always.
with a shaky alibi, and evidence mounting, investigators charged bambi bennett and her boyfriend with two counts of murder. bambi's own sons didn't believe in her innocence, but there was one man who did. and he was prepared to fight for her freedom. returning to "the deed," here's dennis murphy. >> bambi bennett sat in a jail cell stunned. she had just been charged with two counts of murder. >> i thought, i'm just having a bad dream. this cannot be happening. not only were my parents just murdered, now i'm being accused of being the ones that killed them. i said, y'all have lost your mind. i said, this doesn't make any sense. i didn't do anything wrong. >> but to prosecutor fran humphries, it made perfect sense. >> the motive is unavoidable in this case. bambi needed her stepfather and mother dead, so she could get her property back. >> property valued at north of $1 million. classic question people in your line of work poses, well, who benefited. >> bambi.
>> as for bambi's boyfriend, rick, humphries believed bambi persuaded him to help her carry out the murderous deed. but both rick and bambi said the prosecutor had it all wrong. they insisted they wouldn't do anything to harm diane or charlie. bambi down played the argument over the land. >> she wants the land. that is the most ludicrous thing ever. it was given to me by my daddy to begin with. even though it was in mama's name, if i wanted the land back, all i had to do was tell mama that. >> also, absurd she said, was the allegation she would kill her parents over disagreements about how to raise her boys. >> who does not have disagreements ever with their mother or their father? me and mama didn't always agree on the upbringing of cody and nate. but that doesn't mean i'm going to kill my mama because we don't agree. that is ridiculous.
>> but by now, even some of bambi's family believed she was responsible for her parents' murders. including bambi's own sons, nathan and cody. you lost your grandparents in the most awful fashion. and then your mom is swept away from your life within minutes. >> it's just crazy. you don't know who to turn to. >> when did you come to the idea that maybe she was the one that did this? >> it was a mixture of things. i had a lot of people in my ear that she did it. that she basically like put it in rick's head for rick to do it. >> i only thought she had something to do with it from what i had been told. >> i resented her. i hated her. i didn't want to see her face ever again. >> it seems bambi's supporters were few and far between. but one who did believe in her innocence was her attorney. jim irvin. >> everybody rushed to judgment in this case. >> the way jim irvin saw it, the prosecution's case against bam by was a weak circumstantial one that hinged on a bunch of theories as to motive. >> what always bothered me about
this case, when you look at the gunpowder residue, there was none on bambi. >> he said that one bit of hard evidence detectives thought they had against bambi, what they thought was blood on her boot, turned out to be nothing. >> detectives said, we've got her dna on this boot. it's going to belong to one of the two people. they couldn't even say it was dna. >> as for the polygraph test, detectives said bambi failed to pass, according to irvin, those results were suspicious. >> the last question they asked her, have you told me everything you know about this case? if i ask a detective that same question, he couldn't pass it either. it's too broad a question. >> bambi sat in jail for six months. >> they were hoping she would flip and tell them the story? >> that's exactly what they were hoping. >> finally, the judge said, enough is enough. prosecutor humphries had to let bambi go. >> it became apparent the evidence was not sufficient to bring her case to trial.
>> didn't have the goods? >> just wasn't there. wasn't there. >> yet she's the foundation of your theory? >> there's no question about it. >> for the time being bambi was able to put horry county jail in her rear-view mirror. and with it, rick. by now bambi had cut ties with her old boyfriend. >> it sounds like she had your back, rick, and then she didn't. >> yeah. >> what happened? >> jail changes people. you know? >> rick was hoping it would be just a matter of time before he, too, would be released. the forensics they had against you, no hair, no fingerprint, no dna. >> nothing. >> but he did have charlie's blood on his shoe. to humphries, that evidence was part of a bloody trail from the crime scene that was about to lead both the prosecutor and rick gagnon into a courtroom showdown. coming up -- one of rick gagnon's fellow inmates comes forward with a damning story. >> he's been given a fairly
detailed account of what occurred that evening, and what the crime scene looked like. >> stuff that hadn't been in the newspapers or on tv. >> no. >> not at all, no. air wick take in fragrance inspired by nature with air wick essential mist. it transforms natural essential oils into mist; filling the room with fragrance, pausing when it's just right. experience air wick essential mist.
get a 4-week trial plus postage and a digital scale go to stamps.com/tv and never go to the post office again. >> rick gagnon was in a world of pain. locked up in the county jail facing two murder charges. he shared his woes with another guy in a jumpsuit, two inmates power walking together around the yard. >> we would walk around the pod, do laps. >> the jail yard buddy was named
robert mullens, a petty crook who seemed strangely interested in rick's troubles. did he want to talk to you about the case? was he grilling you? >> all the time. all the time. >> but then it seemed everyone in this part of south carolina wanted to know more about this case and its two beloved victims. it took three years, but in 2008, the state was ready to try rig gagnon for the murders of charlie and diane. a camera was rolling as prosecutor fran humphries began his case. >> this is purely motive evidence that establishes a motive for richard gagnon to end the lives of these two people. >> as humphries recalls, the case against rick was always motivation strong, evidence weak. not much more than a drop of charlie parker's blood on a shoe when you came right down to it. even so, humphries told the court, the blood put rick at the murder scene. >> but he had a story for it, didn't he? >> he did. it didn't hold water, but he had
a story about it. >> humphries recited rick's version of how blood had got on his shoe, how he had went into the parker house to get a set of car keys after the crime scene techs had finished up. >> he looked to his right which was the window leading in to the bathroom where big charlie had died and noticed the blood. >> rick said he worried bambi pacing outside might look in the window and freak out all over again. >> he went in and stepped through the bathroom and closed the blind. >> and, oops, i stepped in the blood. >> yeah. >> that's his story, though, right? >> yeah. >> but it didn't hold up? >> no. because they were already closed. >> that was the gotcha. this crime scene photo, said the prosecutor, was taken hours before rick supposedly stepped inside that house. notice the bathroom blinds are drawn. humphries argued that rick could not have closed the blinds because they were already shut. the prosecutor said the defendant was lying, though he
believed rick had told the truth about the murders to at least one other person. the state's star witness, robert mullens. the witness i call the jailhouse snitch, and you call a jailhouse informant. >> no, he's a snitch, no question about that. but at the end of the day, what we learned from robert mullens is that he's been given a fairly detailed account by gagnon of what occurred that evening and what the crime scene looked like. >> in fact, he said mullens was the first to tell police this piece of bombshell news. gagnon had mentioned an accomplice in the killings. >> the only way he can have that information is from someone who participated in the crime. >> then the prosecutor tried to spin an inconvenient fact in his favor. those mystery blood drops found at the murder scene had been tested. the dna was not a match to rick, but to an unidentified male. that, said the prosecutor, actually supported what mullens said, that rick had an accomplice.
humphries believed the evidence was enough to put the defendant away. he only wished he could make the same case against rick's old girlfriend. what about bambi? she wasn't being tried in this courtroom. >> no. i think it's a travesty. >> her fingerprints were on it? >> all over it, figuratively. >> and that's just how he laid it out in his closing. he told the jury this is a story about a spoiled woman, bambi bennett, who had manipulated her boyfriend, rick gagnon, into doing her murderous dirty deed. get back the deed, get her mother off her back. >> he heard from bambi, how her parents were not fair to her, my parents are horrible people, and i'm -- you know, they've taken advantage of me. >> to make things right, argued the prosecutor, the dutiful boyfriend and his right-hand man entered the house and hunted down bambi's parents in their night clothes. the jury had just heard a drama of southern gothic proportions. dripping with family greed and
hatred. now it was time for an entirely different story. >> none of the puzzle pieces fit. >> rick's defense team, including attorney barbara pratt, told the court that the state's case was heavy on fiction, light on facts. >> they had a puzzle, they had neat little pieces, but the pieces weren't exactly right. >> the state was so desperate to prove its case, she said, it clung to the word of a jailhouse snitch and career criminal. >> a fellow that is there to cut himself a deal and get himself some assistance, i guess, in his own case, is not likely to be credible. >> not only was the snitch not to be believed, the defense told the jurors, but the state was also trying to confuse them about the mystery blood found at the crime scene. the bottom line, said pratt, the dna from that blood cleared their client from the murders. >> the dna didn't match. and we knew the dna was not going to match rick. >> they knew that, she said, because rick had an alibi for the night of the murders.
he had been asleep in myrtle beach with bambi. the way pratt saw it, the most challenging part of the case was the blood on rick's shoe. to explain how it got there, rick took the stand. he pointed out that on the morning the bodies were discovered, police had examined him thoroughly and found nothing. >> if there was blood on my shoes that morning, i would have been arrested right then and there. there was no blood on my shoes that morning. >> that came later, he said, when he stepped into the blood-soaked bathroom. despite that police photo, he insisted the window blinds were open, and he had worried simply that bambi might see the horror inside. >> i went in an enshut the blind. i didn't think she needed to see that. >> he testified the blood got on his shoe at that moment, not before. >> did you go into the house and kill big charlie and diane at the instigation of bambi? >> absolutely not. >> you two in a conspiracy to kill those people? >> no, sir. >> so who did kill the couple? we don't know, said the defense.
but it wasn't rick gagnon. with that, the jurors filed out to deliberate. rick waited with his attorneys, and the woman many felt to be at the heart of it all, held her breath. coming up, the jury renders its verdict. >> i didn't know what to think. i didn't know what to think anymore. >> but this isn't the end of a case because finally investigators learn who left those mysterious blood drops at the crime scene. >> he said they identified the killer. - how many people love you unconditionally? while you ponder that, consider adopting a rescue pet. there are 6.5 million of them; they all need a forever home. it would mean the world to them,
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the jury was about to decide rick gagnon's fate. but it's not the end to the twisted tale. could the resolution to this case finally put a bitter family feud to rest. here's dennis murphy with the final chapter of "the deed." >> jurors in rick gagnon's murder case deliberated for only a few hours. when they filed back into the courtroom, he read their faces and knew, they found him guilty. >> two counts of murder, received two life sentences. >> that's called a pine box sentence. >> pretty much. >> getting out of the system in a pine box when you're dead. >> bambi said she didn't want to be in court for the verdict. her attorney called her with the news. >> here i am thinking, oh, my gosh, could he have done this? and then i'm going in the back
of my head, there's no way he could have did this. >> rick felt as though he had been sandbagged. >> i believed if god saw fit for me to go home, i would go home. >> and that thought was about all he had left, faith in god and a good appellate lawyer. in this case, bob. >> in my 22 or 23 years of being an appellate defense attorney, rick gagnon was one of only about two or possibly three people that i genuinely believed was innocent. >> that certainty would mean exactly nothing to an appeals judge, unless bob and rick could come up with new evidence. then in 2009, a year after his verdict, rick had an encounter in prison with yet another inmate. >> and techs all excited about something. >> authorities in tennessee, the prisoner told rick, had just arrested someone for a home invasion there. >> he told me, they identified the killer. >> that man's name was bruce
hill. when authorities ran his information through the data base, they had a match for the blood found at the crime scene. a jury convicted hill of the murders of big charlie and diane. his motive for the crime was never firmly established. >> who is bruce hill? do you know that name? >> no. >> ever see him at the farm property, on job sites? >> no, never. >> but rick's lawyer needed proof that there was no connection between the two men. so he paid hill a visit. >> bruce hill showed a picture of rick gagnon and his words were, i've never seen that
cracker [ bleep ] before. bruce hill was unambiguous and was very blunt that he did not know rick. >> all hill had to do now was admit that in open court. and gagnon might go free. hill flatly refused. once again, rick was out of luck, but not hope. >> the first piece of good news i'd had in a long time. you know? i was excited to see what god was getting ready to do. >> and there were developments. >> yes, sir. >> namely, the arrival of a new inmate. >> i was in the chapel at the time. it was my job assignment. he was brought into the chapel. >> one day the man opened up and stunned rick. he said he had known a guy in jail named -- wait for it -- robert mullens, the very same who testified against rick. the man then said that mullens had shared a secret. he had lied about rick's involvement in the murders. >> i mean, i already knew it. but to hear somebody else say it --
>> that mullens had lied. >> yeah. >> proud of what he was able to do. >> yeah. >> now the snitch on snitch story had the appeals judge's attention. >> the judge had to make a determination that the result of the trial would probably have been different. >> because mullens' story was that important in getting the conviction? >> right. >> the judge vacated rick's conviction saying the new county solicitor, the one who had replaced humphries, could refile charges if he wanted. the solicitor said he did not. so in 2013, after eight years inside, rick gagnon walked out of prison. he settled on the carolina coast now, married with children. >> just the smell of the ocean, you know, it's like freedom. it's a terrible thing that i went to prison for something i didn't do. it's changed my life. >> his old girlfriend believes her life was up-ended, too. bambi says she's cut ties with most of the people she grew up with. the tobacco fields she still
owns are pretty much her only connections to the place. >> i didn't want to be there anymore. that was my home. but my home that i had known just falsely accused me. and destroyed me. >> but there is something she'd like from the people of south carolina. do you want an apology? would that go anywhere for you? >> i do want an apology. no, it doesn't change what they did, and it's not going to fix what they took away. >> she would like nothing more than an apology from you. for the heart ache you've caused her. >> she's not getting that. she's entitled to something from me, but apology is not it. >> what should she expect? >> i would have liked for her to have received justice in the case. >> meaning he would have liked her charged, tried and convicted. >> i would liked to have been an agent of that justice. >> all but forgotten are bambi's sons, cody and nathan. reeling from once hating their
mom, to now believing her completely innocent. >> i don't think she had anything to do with it. >> as a testament to that change of heart, they've joined their mom in the place she now calls home, florida. for the first time in a long while, they feel like family. >> it took a while before you really were able to trust her with all your feelings and tell her you loved her and hug her. >> you can be her sons again. >> right. definitely. >> for that, at least bambi is grateful. for the future, she's hopeful even if every once in a while she looks back in anger. >> i lost my mom and dad. my children lost their grandparents. our family still has no answers. they're still saying the case isn't completely solved. maybe if they took the time in the beginning we wouldn't be in this predicament today. >> maybe there are no more answers, no reason to keep digging up the past. just leave it rooted right where it is, and let the spanish moss
grow. >> that's all for this edition of "dateline extra." thanks for watching. president trump appears to be doubling down after telling a group of progressive democratic congresswomen to go back to where they came from. house speaker nancy pelosi is coming to lawmakers' defense while republicans remain largely silent. the trump administration launches immigration raids but they are off to a slow start. one u.s. official tells nbc news that only a handful of arrests have taken place. and tropical storm barry gets downgraded to a tropical depression but it still poses a threat with possible
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