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tv   Dateline  MSNBC  January 5, 2020 2:00am-3:00am PST

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>> that's all for this edition of "dateline". i'm craig melvin. thank you for watching. i'm craig melvin. and i'm natalie moralis. >> and this is "dateline." >> she was crying and crying. >> i said, what's wrong? >> she said, gabby's dead. we all wanted to believe it was an accident. there's no possible way he could do this on purpose. >> a dark house, a husband with a gun. a wife dead on the floor. >> make sure that she is still breathing. >> oh, i don't think she is, dam it. >> there was no question who killed her. the mystery was why. >> i hear the door squeaking and i hear a grumbling and i hear
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the dog growling. >> how could you not tell it was your wife? >> he kept saying it was an accident, he didn't do anything wrong. >> others disagree. >> we never for a second didn't know who that was standing in front of him. >> was it a tragic mistake? >> he was broken. >> or cold blooded murder. >> the emotions are only done in front of the detective. they're not done when he's alone. >> a room too dark to see or a story too hard to believe. >> a shot in the dark and the light of the day. >> the love of your life? >> yes. >> the person you know no better than anybody else? >> yes, sir. >> you can't tell that's her and you pull that trigger? >> welcome to "dateline."
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theirs was a marriage of opposites, she the hard-charging businesswoman. he the easy going contractor. yet, somehow they made it work or so it seemed until a gunshot ripped through the night leaving debbie dead and a family racked with doubt. was her death a case of mistaken identity or the bloody end to a marriage gone bad. here's andrea canning with "the silhouette." what happened inside this house would destroy everything the woman who lived there had worked for. she finally had it all. the career, the dream home. the marriage she had waited so long for. >> there was a brightness in her eye. >> i trusted that she knew her heart. >> they were in love. there was no other way around it. >> her life now complete, fulfilled, safe. >> we never worried about her.
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>> but was it all an illusion? >> send an ambulance, please. >> what happened that morning in the pre-dawn hours in the dark? >> right in the frigging chest. oh. >> the women at this san antonio racket club say you can tell a lot about a person by the way they play tennis. >> i think tennis in general brings out your personality. >> tennis brings out either the best or the worst in you. >> as for who had the best character at the club the answer comes as fast as a serena williams serve. their friend, debbie. >> debbie for me was the whole package of a person, fair, fun, and a great leader. >> debbie fiercely independent, driven. >> always wanted to be a career woman. >> she climbed the corporate ladder in health care. her mom and dad jim and anne
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kelly marvelled at her commitment. >> she spent many, many hours traveling and many hours working overtime. >> but debbie hadn't found as much success in her personal life. she got married in her 20s but it didn't work out. now in her 40s and dedicated to her career, there was little time to look for the right guy. >> is it hard to date? >> it was hard for her to date. >> reporter: so in 2008, debbie took a new job that allow her to focus a little more on her personal life. that when she got serious about her tennis game. >> she was a little bit of a tiger. that's how she met this bunch. >> she's not a big person, but all of her went up and the hair would fly up and she it would smash that ball. >> the lady clicked off the court, too, bonding over post-match drinks. >> she had a great laugh, throws her head back, chuckled, her whole body laughed.
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she had a funny, quirky side. >> i heard she was very private. would she talk about dating and guys with you all? >> not with me. >> she just wasn't one to talk about herself period. i was always trying to find her somebody. >> how did she receive betty the match maker? >> she'd always be, oh, no. >> husband or not, debbie was ready to plant some permanent roots. she bought a house in a gated community, began to remodel it all her own. she told her friend about it. was it an hgtv kind of girl if. >> hey, i'm going to home depo, working on the sprinkler system or deciding on materials for the floor. >> but the busy executive couldn't do everything herself. so in 2012, she hired a contractor, his name was the lars inso. once work got underway, lars
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seemed in no hurry to finish the job. >> she was getting frustrated and said i wish this person would finish. >> he said he wasn't drag it out for the money. yeah, she kept flirting and talking and we're laughing and having a good time. >> lars liked debbie and he thought it was mutual. >> he goes, can i ask her out? yeah, why can't you? >> so began an unlikely courtship between debbie the petite power house and lars, the 6'2" nordic he man. >> they were cute. they were goofy. >> like teenagers. >> debbie got a kick out of lars' laid back ways, a guy into old school board games, restoring muscle cars and drink texas' home grown soft drink dr. pepper. >> a case a day. a lot of dr. pepper. >> at least a 12 pack i know. >> i never heard of someone drink tag much dr. pepper.
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>> i thought it would kill him. he doesn't drink a lot of alcohol at all, just dr. pepper. >> when private debbie brought lars out to meet her friends, they knew it was serious. >> he arrived with her hand-in-hand. >> sure. they noticed lars was a different sort of match for their friend. >> he's very quiet. >> he's got the blond hair that would go with being named lars. >> he seemed like a surfer big man. >> but to debbie, he was the right man. >> i felt like she was really in love with him. >> i can understand her thinking, you know, maybe it's time to try something just different. >> and pretty soon that something different was official. after a year of dating, debbie and lars were engaged. >> so baby brother finally settled down? >> he did and he was happy. i never seen him that happy. >> they married soon after at
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this chapel in arkansas, near her parents' homes. >> how beautiful did she look on her wedding day? >> the main thing, she looked so happy. that was really important to me. >> debbie and lars embraced the contentive rhythms of married life, spending weeks with family, enjoying the outdoors and her dog cody, but after two years together, things started to change, debbie got a coveted promotion to vice president. >> that was going to entail more traveling and a lot more working, too. >> big responsibilities, more pay. less time at home. less time with lars. october 9th, 2015, debbie recently back from a business trip went to bed early for a morning tennis game. debbie's beloved cody slept on the floor beside her. the shades were down. lars joined them a little past midnight. four hours passed and then -- >> san antonio 911.
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>> uh, just, uh -- had a gunshot -- >> what had happened in that texas home? coming up. >> i thought there was a burglar in the house. >> danger in the night and a confrontation in the dark. oh, baby. >> when "dateline" continues. i wanted more from my copd medicine that's why i've got the power of 1, 2, 3 medicines with trelegy. the only fda-approved once-daily 3-in-1 copd treatment. ♪ trelegy ♪ the power of 1,2,3 ♪ trelegy ♪ 1,2,3 ♪ trelegy woman: with trelegy and the power of 1, 2, 3, i'm breathing better. trelegy works three ways to open airways, keep them open
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4:13 a.m., lars called 911. >> i'm a male, she's a female. will you send an ambulance, please? >> that female was debbie shot and gravely wounded. >> i want you to walk over to her and make sure that she is still breathing. >> oh, i don't think she is, dam it. oh. oh. >> the 911 operator guided lars through cpr. kneel beside her. >> oh, baby. oh, man. right in the frigging chest. oh. >> police raced up to the house, dash cams rolling. the audio kept recording as they entered the house. they found lars standing over debbie's body back by the
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bedroom. >> go ahead and back up, please. >> as an officer tended to debbie, lars tried to explain how the shooting happened. >> i thought there was a burglar in the house, that there were multiple people in the house. >> what did you hear? >> i heard voices when i was in bed. >> where did you hear the voices at? >> up front. >> so you heard the voices, what happened? >> i thought my wife was in bed with me. i grabbed my shotgun. >> as emts took over trying to save debbie, lars went with police down to the station, they urgently needed more details. where were the intruders? were they armed? what did lars know?
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what exactly did he do? sitting in the interview room wrapped in cody's dog blanket, lars took them through what happened step by step. he said he was awakened by 4:00 a.m. by strange noises in the house. >> i hear the front door or the door squeaking and i hear grumbling and the dog growling. >> he said he never heard cody growl before, so he was instantly on alert. >> did you think they were male voices or female voices? >> i thought they were male. >> he says he reached this tiny hallway where he saw a silhouette standing in front of him about 3 feet away. he says he made the split second decision to fire his gun fearing for his life. all of this happening, he says, in the pitch black darkness. >> about how far away from you? >> me to you. >> but the person lars shot was not an intruder. it was debbie. police quickly determined that the only shot fired in the house came from lars' gun. he said it was an accident, a case of mistaken identity. >> everything happened so fast.
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>> nevertheless. >> any kind of infidelities going on between you, her? >> no, sir. i trust her completely. completely. >> lars answered each of the investigator's questions. in return, he just wanted to know one thing. >> nobody has told me anything about if she's all right. >> so after two hours of talking, they broke the news. >> i don't know how to tell you this, but your wife didn't make it. she is deceased. >> just before 10:00 a.m., police let lars go. >> ken and christy believe their younger brother that morning overwhelmed with grief. >> he was completely hurt. shattered. you know, he -- he was broken.
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>> in those hours afterwards, what was he talking about? >> he really wasn't talking. >> he was just in shock. if he opened his mouth, he broke down. >> across town, debbie's tennis friends were out on the court waiting for her to start that early morning match. one of their husbands came out to tell them about debbie. >> so he called me over and said that lars had shot her. >> what are you thinking when you hear that? >> it's surreal. >> i couldn't comprehend how could somebody shoot somebody? it didn't even make sense to me. >> in arkansas, jim and anne kelly learn the news from their son that's just the worst news a mother could ever hear. how does your brain process that information? >> i don't think you do. i couldn't process the shooting part i guess, just that she was gone. and a part of me died the day
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she died. >> i kept saying, not debbie, not debbie, not deb. >> debbie's parents flew to san antonio, to spend time with lars, to support him in their shared grief. >> he could hardly talk. he seems extremely remorseful. >> was he saying everything that you would want to hear? i messed -- i did it, i'm sorry. >> he apologized profusely for it and said it was just an accident, it was dark. >> some people might be really angry, but you didn't go down that road. >> we did not go down that road. we supported him. >> but that support was about to be put to the test. >> coming up. >> i know that she was frustrated. >> how strong was that marriage? how dark was that night? >> that's your wife, height,
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weight, shape, how could you not tell that's your wife? >> when "dateline" continues.
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lars said he fatally shot his wife debbie but said it was a terrible accident. from the very beginning, he cooperated with police, answered every question, no lawyer present. then about eight hours after that first conversation about the shooting, lars headed back to the station and sat down for polygraph test. >> he volunteered to go do it.
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i'll take a polygraph. >> because he said he didn't do anything wrong. >> yeah. >> but the polygraph indicated lars was deceptive in some of his answers. the brother and sister said it was perfectly understandable. >> he's in shock. you know. >> he couldn't even get his name right, birth date, where he was born. >> maybe so, but his performance on the polygraph was enough for detectives to grill him relentlessly. >> how could you not see it was a woman? >> defense dark, sir. >> no matter how dark it was, how scared he was, how could lars fail to recognize debbie three feet away. >> that's your wife, height, weight, shape, how could you not tell it was your wife? >> it was dark. >> do you understand how lame that sounds, lars? >> i'm sorry. >> you're 36 inches from a human being, you can't tell it's your wife. i don't care if it's pitch dark.
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no room is completely dark. there's ambient light from every room. it may not be enough. it's enough to tell the shape. owes you wouldn't have fired. you obviously saw something because you fired the gun. >> lars insisted he thought there was intruders in the house and he and debbie were in danger. >> i thought there was somebody else in the house going down the hallway the other direction. i thought there was one coming at me this way. that's what i think. >> what made you happen it happened because your dark growled? >> yes, sir, he never growls. he barks. >> there was no witness or apparent evidence to contradict him. after an hour of questioning, police once again let lars go. six days later, he said his final good-bye to debbie. her parents by his side. >> how was lars at the funeral? >> very composed. very reserved. he stood up with me. >> what did that say that the
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family was supporting him? >> it said a lot. it was great. >> debbie's friends weren't nearly as supportive. did you say anything to him? did he say anything to you? >> no, i did not. >> they were furious at lars for doing something so stupid so careless, everything they did bothered them. even his taste in flower arrangements that day. like the one here. >> there was a wreath up at the front, that was a huge flower heart. in the middle of it, it was broken with these lines. so it was this broken heart and it actually looked like a heart beat. it was in such poor taste. >> she was actually shot in the heart? >> well, it penetrated the lining of her heart, yeah. >> as family and friends tried to sort out their feelings, police reviewed the case, looking to see if there was a crime or fought. since even an accident can warrant criminal charges and sure enough, 11 days after lars fatally shot debbie, he was
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charged with manslaughter. >> anything you want to say? >> prosecutors carl alexander and leo gonzalez caught the case. >> why didn't manslaughter if it? >> manslaughter is defined in the texas penal code causing death recklessly of an individual. essentially, it was somehow, somewhat of an accident. >> lars was released on bail. debbie's parents continued to support him. >> manslaughter is still in our understanding would be an accident. >> an accident. >> so we move forward from there. >> as the days without debbie stretched into weeks, something cooled in here relationship. >> he starts changing in my conversation, connections with him, he's not so forthcoming. if i ask him something, he kind of pulls back. >> lars' sister says his behavior could be explained. he sunk into a deep depression. >> he kept saying he wanted debbie back, it was an accident,
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he was sorry. >> investigators as they worked into the case looked into the couple's finances, debbie's assets totaled more than a million dollars when she died. her dad was named the beneficiary on most of her investment accounts, so lars, it seems, had little to gain by killing her. still the whispers continued among debbie's friends, who told investigators there was another side to the marriage. >> i know that she was frustrate frustrated. >> even simple things caused tension. lars the contractor was slow to finish things around the house. >> she did show me a picture of what lars did in the bathroom and the measurements were incorrect. so it ended up making a whole -- she goes i want my bathroom fixed. >> she would express frustrations about lars sitting around on the couch all day and watching tv.
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>> debbie's friend noticed a change in her behavior when she returned home from business trips. >> she would come home from some of these trips and say, hey, let's go you know get a drink. let's have some dinner. and your expectation would be, i want to get home to my husband. she didn't seem to be in any particular hurry anymore. >> looking back now, debbie's parents wondered if the marriage frayed because debbie the modern woman, wasn't meeting lars' old fashioned expectations. >> she was not the kind to stay home and bake cookies or walk in the door and serve you a meal because she had worked just as hard too. >> and all these friends, she goes and spends tennis time, does things, maybe you feel are you getting short changed. >> he did want more of debbie? >> he did want more of debbie. >> all marriages have problems,
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very few end this badly. so investigators decided to take an even closer look at the husband who pulled the trigger. >> coming up, lars seemed upset. was he? >> his fits of emotion are only done in front of the detectives. they're not done when he's alone. >> when "dateline" continues. where does your almondmilk come from? almond breeze starts here with our almond trees in our blue diamond orchard in california. my parents' job is to look after them. and it's my job to test the product. the best almonds make the best almondmilk. blue diamond almond breeze.
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i'm dara brown with the top stories. president trump tweeting out a warning to iran saying 52 targets have already been lined up if they retaliate. the white house also sent official notification to congress about the operation that killed the general. authorities in australia are hoping milder temperatures will help fight against the worst wildfires in the country's history. 24 people have been killed. now back to "dateline." as 2015 gave way no 2016,
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investigators weren't so sure debbie kelly had been happy in her marriage to lars and they took a closer look at the circumstances of her death. they pulled all those recordings from the day of the shooting, examines lars' behavior, his terms of phrase. even things he didn't do starting with the 911 call. this is lars in the first moments of that call. >> i had a gunshot. i thought somebody was in the house. my wife. >> and you did shoot somebody? >> yes, ma'am. >> what is your name in. >> my name is lars itso. oh, man. >> what do you make of this tone from lars? >> he's not that upset of what he's done. >> i'm thinking he's having an awe shucks moment as opposed to oh, my god, moment i just shot my wife. >> in moments, he became frantic, hyperventilating.
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moaning. >> oh my love. >> the question, was it for real? >> the way he switched up emotions from when he starts cpr, it sound like overacting. >> and investigators also noticed how lars' story evolved over just a few hours. on the 911 call, he set the scene this way. >> to responding officers, he changed the order of events, telling them, he saw that light after he got out of bed. >> and lars added various new details to his story. >> in his interview down at the station, lars revised his story again.
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that's when he said he went to the front door squeaking and offered for the first time this description of how he realized he had shot debbie. >> during those interviews, lars appeared heart broken, at times falling apart. >> he was described as pacing in the blanket, he was mumbling, he was moaning. >> at various times, yes. >> is that not what a husband should do after something like that? it sounds normal. >> that's the thing, it sounds normal. right? when the detective looks at him. he doesn't tears, that doesn't jive with anything else. >> these bits of emotion are only done in front o. detective. they're not done when he's alone. >> what was he doing when officers weren't there. >> sitting in this manner. >> sipping his drink, dr. pepper.
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>> free on bail, lars understood he was still under the microscope. >> it was difficult. he didn't sleep much. >> watching lars suffer was torture for ken and christy. they knew how much their brother loved debbie and how dark and confusing that house could be at night. you felt it was important we come to the house now in. >> yes, i did. >> why? >> because no one realizes how dark it was. >> we're here, it's around 4:00 in the morning. >> yes, it is. >> this was lars and debbie's bedroom. >> the bed was on this wall. >> ken walked us through the story lars told us countless times. >> he wasn't sure what he was seeing, he thought it was an intruder, maybe two. >> debbie is only 5'3," blonde, wearing a light tee-shirt. why would he not think it was his wife? >> at 4:00 in the morning, i don't think size, weight, complexion matters when you are awakened by a noise and your dog
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is growling. >> ken wanted us to experience it with the lights off. >> let's do it. >> let's shut the lights off. >> at first, it was pitch back. but as my eyes adjusted, i could make out something. >> i can see a little bit of a silhouette, but i cannot see your face. i'm going to turn the light back on. i believe i was standing about where lars was standing. you were standing about where debbie was standing. i would say he would probably see the height of the person if he had similar eyes to me. >> that depiction means absolutely nothing at 4:00 in the morning. >> what's your reaction to that? does that change anything? >> by her size alone he should have known it was her. a silhouette, i mean, three feet away, he should have known that that was his wife. >> prosecutors believed it simply was not as dark that morning as lars claimed and said photos from inside the house proved it.
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>> this is the big picture windows. they're there in the living room. the drapes are never pulled back in circle where the shooting hammond in there? >> it would have been over here. >> those are the windows the prosecution made a deal ability. even the curtains are exactly the way they were the morning of the incident. they believe ambient light would have had to have seeped through these windows from neighborhood streets, homes, even the night sky. >> prosecutors believe that ambient light was enough for lars to see debbie's silhouette. they factored in his inconsistent behavior, his shifting story. >> when you kind of put it altogether, there was nothing accidental about what he did. >> five months after debbie's death the state made its move. >> had you all thought this was going to go away since so much time had passed? >> i was hoping it would. >> instead, lars was rearrested. the charge this time, murder. >> coming up.
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a very thirsty suspect. >> i don't want to drink a dr. pepper when my hands are covered in my wife's blood. >> but does that make lars a murderer? >> when "dateline" continues." ♪ ♪
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was lars itso a loving husband who made a deadly mistake or a killer trying to cover his tracks?
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that was the central question as the people versus lars itso began in december 2016. the stakes were high. if lars was convicted of murder, he could face up to 99 years in prison. if he was convicted of manslaughter, as few as two. >> we never for a second believe he didn't know who that was standing in front of him. >> but the prosecutors knew proving intentional murder wouldn't be easy. >> especially in this case, though. where you have someone saying, i did it. i confess. but it was an accident. i love my wife. >> yeah, we were aware of that. we were willing to accept that challenge. >> lars' attorneys, david philips and tamara cochran may, believe their client and thought the jury would, too. >> this was simply a terrible accident. >> when i first met lars, i could see his remorse and after speaking with him, i said, this man didn't do anything on purpose.
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>> the prosecution started off in dramatic fashion. they played lars' 911 call for the jury. as the tape rolls, lars shook and sobbed with his entire body. once again, the prosecution wondered, was it real remorse? smr i have small children. i have seen that face before. it usually involves just before a dirty diaper. >> that's a first on "dateline." >> he had that expression of bearing down, turning red. you never saw a tear. >> next up the first officer on the scene that night. he testified that lars didn't look like a man who had been doing cpr on his mortally wounded wife. >> he was clean. >> what do you mean by clean is this. >> he didn't have any blood on his body. once they saw him doing cpr, then he had blood on his hands. >> detectives told the jury lars put on an emotional display. >> the sobbing noises.
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>> did you ever see a tear? >> no. >> they played that video of lars at the police station to show how he seemed to keep adding details to his story of the shooting. and helped in the midst of tragedy, lars still had the presence of mind to ask for his favorite beverage. >> here you go, mr. itso. >> i enjoy dr. pepper every now and again. but i don't want to drink a dr. pepper when my hands are covered in my wife's blood. he doesn't even seem to take notice of that. there is one point in the video where he actually sees it and kind of wipes it off on the blanket. >> no big deal. whatever, little debbie. that's cool. >> the prosecution's case involved around this question. around 4:00 a.m. in a dark house. could lars see enough to see two he was shooting. a frequent house guest testified she could easily see at night in their home. >> there was enough light coming through the big windows that i
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could find my way. >> and remember, debbie was only about 3 feet away when lars shot her. prosecutor carl alexander wanted to show the jury just how close that is. >> what was the the experience? >> terrifying. >> why? >> i'm a gun owner, one of the absolute cardinal rules of using a firearm is you do not point the barrel at anything you do not intend to destroy, ever. i knew it was unloaded, but in that moment, my pulse skyrocketed. >> he wanted the jury to think hard, no matter how dark it was, wouldn't you recognize your own spouse? >> he knows her scent. he knows her sound. he knows her shape and he knew who that was in front of him. >> after laying out how lars killed debbie the prosecution thought the jury would want to know why? what was the motive? the couple, they said, had hit a breaking point. she testified her hard charging
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multi-tasking friend debbie found lars a little too laid back. >> they were doing a project and it was taking a long time. >> who was doing it? >> lars. >> so she was frustrated with lars? >> yes, sir. >> the prosecutors told the jury this marriage of opposites became too lopsided for lars to handle. >> she took time to play tennis. her work was very important. she took time out to go have dinner with friends and family. he wasn't a factor. >> basically, she didn't consider him enough to be a part of her normal every day life. >> they said lars wanted more from debbie. when he didn't get it, he got rid of her, instead. >> this is a new one for me, one of the possible motives that was brought up, that lars was old school and was upset that debbie did not take his last name. >> she was a professional woman and very driven.
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i think that's a part of why she didn't take his name. she kept everything separate. >> including her bank accounts, she never put lars' name on them. >> this was not about money. >> no, it wasn't. i think it has to do with he loved her more than she loved him. >> when its turn came the defense said, of course, why lars loved debbie, which is exactly why he did not murder her. >> an accidental shot killed the love of his life, he made the most horrific mistake of his entire life. >> and they called a reluctant surprise witness, debbie's own mother, whose early support for lars had waned. she did not want to testify on his behalf. >> i didn't take it well. i actually started screaming at the attorney. >> but anne took the stand.
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lars' attorney showed her a check she once wrote to debbie. >> who is it made out to? >> debbie itso. proof the defense, argued, that independent debbie sometimes went by her married name. they called lars' friends to say the couple's marriage was solid. >> how would you describe this relationship? >> perfect. it was very good. >> did you ever know any, sense any marriage difficulty? >> no. >> christy itso showed how her normally stoic brother was overcome with grief. >> he was crying, curled up in a ball. he grabbed me. we cried for 20 minutes. and all he wanted was debbie back. >> but the defense knew their case hinged on one thing. lars' state of mind the moment he pulled the trigger. >> raise your right hand.
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>> and there was only one person who could tell that to the jury. coming up, a grieving husband or a lying one? >> the love of your life? >> yes. >> no better than anybody else? >> the person you know better than anybody else? >> yes, sir. >> you can't tell it's her when you pull that trigger? >> when "dateline" continues. it's like yoga... for your tastebuds. ommmmmmmmmmmm two good greek low-fat yogurt. slow-strained down to 2 grams of sugar. do good by you. [baby crying] pampers is the first and only diaper with air dry channels they stay up to 3 times drier, so babies can sleep soundly...all night. pampers. he's a systems quarterback. where's the truck? what? parked it right there. male voice: what did i tell you, boys? tonight we eat like kings! (chuckling) you're a genius, gordon!
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welcome back. on trial for the murder of his
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wife, lars itzo was about to take the witness stand. what would he do to make jurors believable it wasn't him who shot his wife? here is the conclusion of "the silhouette." >> i heard moaning and, at that time, i knew it was my wife. >> reporter: lars itzo up on the stand in his own murder trial to tell the story of what he described as the perfect relationship. >> it was bliss. the best thing that ever happened to me. >> reporter: that what everyone in the courtroom was waiting for. details about the morning debbie was killed. >> i heard a grumbling and, as i woke up, i got up to see what that was. it was pitch dark. >> reporter: lars stuck to his story that he couldn't see what he was shooting at. he thought their lives were in danger. >> i had seen the movement in front of me and i had pulled the
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trigger at that time. >> reporter: he said he was a good man who made a horrible mistake . [ inaudible question ] >> no. she was the love of my life. >> reporter: a mistake he said he would regret forever. >> reporter: on cross-examination, prosecutor carl alexander challenged lars' key claim that in the dark he simply couldn't distinguish debbie from an intruder. >> you know debbie's shake? >> i know her shake. >> she is the love of your life? >> yes. >> a person you know better than anybody else? >> yes, sir. >> you can't tell it's her when you pull that trigger? >> no. >> reporter: lars testified for two and a half hours but would it be enough to convince the jury room he was innocent?
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they now face a decision between murder, manslaughter, or not guilty. >> will you stand? >> reporter: after more than six hours of verdict on count one, the murder charge. >> we, the jury, find the defendant not guilty. >> reporter: but before anyone in the courtroom had time to react, another verdict. >> guilty of manslaughter as charged. >> reporter: the verdict pleased almost no one. >> no. this can't be! >> reporter: so for many on debbie's side as if the jury just let lars off. >> disbelief. anger beyond words. >> reporter: but lars' family believe that prosecutors had it all wrong. >> it was about them winning and it had nothing to do with justice or the truth. >> reporter: then came sentencing. in texas, the jury decides. it soon became clear they wanted to hold lars accountable. >> a term of 15 years. >> reporter: 15 years, just a few years shy of the maximum
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sentence. i spoke with lars at the state penitentiary in texas where he says he carries a photo of debbie in the pocket of his prison uniform. >> i kiss her picture every morning, every night. >> reporter: i asked him to describe, once again, what happened the morning he shot debbie. >> walking in the middle of the night. >> reporter: the story sounded familiar at first but then. >> and i seen the door closing very, very, very slowly. >> reporter: he seen the door closing slowly? as he had it before, lars added a new detail to his murder. moments later he seemed to add another. >> people in their miscellaneous reaching for me. >> reporter: reaching for you? >> well, i just seen moovement. >> reporter: i asked him about his inconsistencies. why is your story changing? >> i don't believe it was. i don't have the script in front of me that i'm reading.
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this is exactly what happened step-by-step-by-step. >> reporter: isn't the truth the truth? >> absolutely. but to have an exact answer every single time, it's not me. i will have an answer that is the truth that is going to be said differently each time. >> reporter: then we talked about the key quell. what really did he see before he fired the gun? i was in the house. >> yes, ma'am. >> reporter: and it was very dark but i could make out your brother's silhouette. would up not clue in that that could be debbie and maybe i shouldn't pull the trigger? >> i know -- come in various forms. i couldn't recognize that it was my wife. if it was, i wouldn't have ever pulled the trigger. >> reporter: did you see her silhouette? >> no. ma'am, i seen movement. that's all i seen was a shadow
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moving. that was from my nined to protect. >> reporter: did you stage this? >> absolutely not. >> reporter: did you murder debbie? >> no. my wife was great in every sense of the word. >> reporter: that offers the kel kellys little comfort. >> the satisfaction would be to have your daughter come back through the dern that is never going to happen. >> reporter: what do you want people to walk away watching about her and her life? >> i think debbie was an inspiration. she will always be a part of me. and still is. >> reporter: so ambitious, so hard working, so close to realizing her dreams. debbie's tennis friends say they miss her every day. >> i think debbie is all around us and supporting aus and we find hints that have constantly in our lives.
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she was a wonderful present. >> and we are blessed to to have known her as a friend. >> that's all for this edition of "dateline." i'm craig melvin. thank you for watching. good morning. i'm garrett haake in washington. it's 6:00 in the east and 3:00 out west and we watching a lot of breaking news all over the world this morning including our continuing special coverage of the fallout from a u.s. strike against one of iran's top generals. president trump delivering new warnings to iran about the consequences of retaliation for solei m soleimani's death. vows of vengeance. how will it end? in the u.s. raising their voices. more than 70 anti-war demonstrations were held across the country overnight. also, australia on fire. how the dire situation there

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