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tv   Dateline  MSNBC  January 8, 2022 2:00am-3:00am PST

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she had a magic smile. it was infectious. if she was smiling, everybody else had to. i'm craig melvin. >> and i'm natalie morales. >> and this is "dateline." >> he was a wealthy doctor with a perfect life and the perfect wife, until the day he says he found her dead. valentine's day. >> my wife -- my wife's -- i think my wife is dead. >> she had enemies. >> there were calls that were made to susan that scared her. >> so imagine everyone's shock when they charged him with murder. >> he just couldn't have done it. >> sure they'd had their problems -- >> a huge number, close to 100, phone calls to this phone back
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and forth to john. >> but he did love her. >> i told some people at the clinic, i wish i had someone that would look at me the way john looks at susan. >> the question for the jury was, did he love her to death? >> the motive was love lost. hello and welcome to "dateline." if you're a fan of fictional courtroom dramas, you might think that every criminal trial ends with a bombshell. maybe it's a surprise witness or an 11th hour confession. well, that kind of thing rarely happens in a real trial, but it did in this story. one last unexpected twist in a case full of surprises. here's dennis murphy with "the valentine's day mystery." ♪♪ a dozen roses -- check. how about a candlelit dinner and a champagne toast to love?
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isn't that what valentine's day is supposed to be about? ♪♪ we all know red is for the ribbon on the box of chocolate, not for the pool of blood in the master bath. maybe chicago gangsters get killed on st. valentine's day, but not pretty doctors' wives in oklahoma city. >> it was huge. it had all of the appeal of a romance novel gone bad. it was the high society doctor married to the beautiful wife that were crazy about one another. >> that high society doctor was dr. john hamilton, an ob/gyn who, in addition to his regular practice, ran an abortion clinic. a role that in conservative oklahoma would bring him some unwelcome notoriety. he and his wife susan had met in 1985 at a friend's birthday party. both had recently separated.
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john from his first wife and susan from dick horton. who was she? what was she like? >> i think the best way to describe her is a woman that always wanted to be a mother, was proud to be a mother, even though she had a great education, her passion was to be a good mother. >> susan, then 39, and john 37, each had two children from their first marriages. friends say that when they met each other, they made an instant connection. vesta hall was a nurse in john's clinic. >> she was beautiful, vivacious, intelligent, just a really neat lady. i told some people at the clinic i wish i had someone that would look at me the way john looks at susan. >> two years after their first date, they married at a local country club. dr. steve jimerson, a colleague of john's, was best man. >> oh, they were la-la. he fawned over her a lot. >> the doctor and his wife built an envious lifestyle for
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themselves, a big, comfortable house in a top-notch neighborhood, lavish dinner parties, spur of the moment vacations, and the seemingly inseparable couple became even more so after they married. susan managed john's abortion clinic, working there two days a week. and as you might guess, it was a job that came with a little danger. anti-abortion protesters were a curbside reality. dick horton sometimes worried for his ex's safety but knew she wasn't one easily rattled or intimidated. >> i don't think there was any question she wore the pants, and if there was another pair, she would go get those. >> if anything, threats against the clinic only seemed to bring the hamiltons closer together. >> she was very strongly pro-choice and very outspoken about it, about the right of women. they were kind of a unit in that regard. >> february 14, 2001, would have been their 15th valentine's day together. but that wednesday morning john arrived home from the hospital and found a horrific scene.
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susan lying beaten and strangled on their bathroom floor. her head bludgeoned, surrounded by a pool of blood. her face savaged, almost unrecognizable. two neckties were knotted about her throat. john frantically called 911. >> 911. >> please, please, send police, please. send an ambulance. >> what's the problem? >> my wife -- my wife's -- i think my wife is dead. >> sir? >> he told the officer he was trying cpr. >> i've been trying cpr. >> is she not breathing? >> no. >> you're doing cpr? i'm going to hang up so i can continue. >> we'll be right there. >> by the time emergency workers arrived, it was clear that susan hamilton was dead. possibilities -- was it a robbery gone bad? a random intruder? or, more likely, an anti-abortion zealot targeting the doctor and his wife?
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investigators would explore those theories and more as they tried to understand what had happened to susan hamilton that valentine's day morning. coming up -- john's puzzling phone bill. >> a huge number, close to 100, phone calls to this phone back and forth to john. >> 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.
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on valentine's day morning 2001, susan hamilton had been strangled and brutally beaten in her bathroom. her naked body was discovered by her husband, john. >> it was violent. it was a violent scene. >> oklahoma city investigators teresa sterling and randy scott, both since retired, arrived at the hamilton house at noon that day. they found a disturbing scene that didn't suit a monied neighborhood. >> the lady is laying on the floor covered in blood, blood all over the floor. >> right away detectives started asking who could be responsible? now keep in mind john hamilton was a doctor who performed abortions. his wife susan worked at the abortion clinic two days a week. is it possible that here in conservative oklahoma she'd been murdered by an anti-abortion zealot? just the week before susan was murdered this wanted poster had been left for dr. hamilton. it read, a reward in heaven will be bestowed on anyone contributing to bringing this murderer to justice.
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and both john and susan had received threatening phone calls that week. >> i was afraid for his safety. there were things done that were dangerous, trying to set fire to his clinic, vandalizing his home, just putting out brochures all over his neighborhood and his kids' school, said wanted dead or alive. >> what's more, only days before the murder, another anti-abortion group had applied for a permit to stage a protest in front of hamilton's house. >> i interviewed those people. every avenue was checked. other issues about maybe was it a burglary, we checked every avenue of any burglary similar, remotely close in the neighborhood. >> as is routine in domestic murders, the detective would look at the spouse, john hamilton, himself. in this case, though, the spouse had an alibi and a good one. he'd been up at dawn for a 7:00 a.m. surgery at an outpatient clinic. it was over by 8:00 and afterwards john stopped by the hospital where he had another
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procedure scheduled for later that morning. at around 8:30 he bumped into his former medical partner, dr. karen reisig. >> i had gone into the doctor's lounge to dictate the procedure, and he was in there. he was talking on the phone, sounded like he was talking to susan, just, you know, just a very light-hearted conversation. >> afterwards, the doctor decided to swing back home. >> he has time to get back by the house, because their house is very close to in between the two hospitals. so he runs by the house. >> he was only at home for a few minutes because at 9:00 a.m. his pager went off. the hospital calling him to get back for a second surgery. by 9:30 he was scrubbing up for the operation, a complicated removal of a tumor. the procedure came off without a hitch. and later none of the other doctors reported anything at all unusual in his behavior. >> they all said he was just as normal and jovial as he always was. >> by 10:45, he was on his way
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home again, which is when he says he discovered susan in a pool of blood. the time line was extremely tight for the doctor to even be considered as a suspect. you'd have to believe he committed the violent murder in the narrow window between his two surgeries. his medical partner, for one, thinks that would be impossible. >> i don't think a physician could do a surgery, go commit a brutal crime of murder, and go back and do another surgery and be even in his right mind. >> investigators, though, weren't ruling anything out, especially not after finding this, a valentine's day card, her to him, opened that day. >> it indicated she still felt something for john but just things weren't the same as they were going to be. >> the card had been found inside john's jaguar. what were they to make of susan's handwritten message, obviously i bought this before last monday. what was that all about? a neighbor was about to give the
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cops the dish. >> she was upset and angry with john, and i think she just wanted to have somebody to talk to. >> susan's friend, susan johnstone, the woman next door, pulled one of the investigators aside and put a bug in the ear, that the week before valentine's day susan hamilton had confided about problems in her marriage. >> susan had noticed john was getting a lot of cell calls. i think she became particularly alarmed when he didn't answer it, and he finally told her that it was a patient, and that she was down on her luck and having hard times and he was just helping her out. >> the patient, as susan discovered, was a stripper at a nightclub. susan demanded to see john's cell phone bill. and when she got hold of it, her worst fear seemed to be realized. whoever this woman was there were way too many calls to and from her. >> she gets the bill, she finds a huge number, and i'm talking close to 100, phone calls to
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this phone back and forth to john. and she gets very suspicious and confronts john about it. >> john had an explanation for his wife. the patient had been having serious psychological problems and had even threatened suicide. john, the good doctor, was simply trying to counsel her. and while he may have stepped over the boundaries professionally, he said he never had an affair with her. >> i said, susan, i don't think it's true. i do not think that john's having an affair. he's crazy about you. you have a good marriage. and i just don't think that it's true. at the end, i think she was calmer. she said i'm going to think about it. >> when susan's ex-husband learned of the murder and the melodrama of the cell phone log, he thought he knew right away what happened. >> they had to find the stripper. the stripper did it. >> one thing everyone who knew the couple, including the
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neighbor, seemed to agree on was that whoever susan's killer was, it certainly was not john hamilton. >> he just couldn't have done it. he was so kind and you never heard him raise his voice or anything like that. >> investigators had plenty of theories to work with. but before that valentine's day was over, they would have a suspect in custody. a name that would shock everybody. coming up -- >> the motive was love lost. >> when "dateline" continues.
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investigators have a word for rage crimes -- overkill. and that's what had happened to susan hamilton on that valentine's day morning, 2001. whoever killed her had cracked her skull open with an object never found and bashed her face into the bathroom tile. two men's ties were tightly knotted about her neck. the scene was a bloody mess. and while there were scenarios to seriously consider, a berserk robber or maybe the legion of activists opposed to the couple's abortion practice, the crime scene wasn't telling them that, not least of all in a bloody crime there were no footprints leading out of the house. shouldn't the killer have left a trace? >> there's no burglary prints to obtain downstairs. there's no tracks that ran out through the creek bed in behind.
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>> soon after their arrival, investigators started questioning dr. john hamilton himself. by then there had been that neighbor's tip about problems in the hamilton marriage, and that wasn't all. the doctor's behavior in the minutes after finding susan dead seemed off. hamilton had told the 911 operator he was performing cpr, but when the first responder, firefighter david bradbury, arrived on the scene, he thought there was something odd about the way the dock tosh was performing chest compressions. >> he had one happened on her chest, one hand on her abdomen attempt to go do compressions in this manner right here. the way we are taught to do cpr, we interlock our hands, the palm goes on the center of the chest on the sternum. >> and bradbury says he didn't see any signs that the doctor had even attempted mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. >> the way this woman had been beaten, her face was swollen, her face was bloody, i didn't notice any blood on his mouth whatsoever.
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>> after arriving at the crime scene, investigators placed john in the back of a police car. and it was there they noticed something else odd. detective teresa sterling. >> he was acting very upset. he was scraping his knuckles on the mesh screen in the police car. he was banging his head into the screen. he was acting bizarre. >> by that afternoon, police had taken the doctor down to the station. they took his clothes as evidence and placed him in an interview room for hours on end, watching, taping him on the surveillance camera. >> john hamilton was not the victim's spouse that we were seeing. he was more suspicion drawn each time we would watch something. >> when left alone in the room, hamilton seemed to be checking out his shoulder area. had he hurt himself? if so, how? and when they found fresh scratches on his hands and arm, did that explain maybe the business about scraping his hands on the patrol car cage? was he trying to cover up earlier injuries?
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>> that would cause a suspicious for us to wonder why he's trying to scrape his hands up. that goes to another issue we talk about possibly being staged or draw attention to me instead of emotionally upset over the loss of his wife. >> still, there was the doctor's seemingly solidal buy. after all, he'd had a busy morning performing not just one but two surgeries with only a brief stop at home in between. >> i think the biggest part for us was to try to figure out how he could get there and spend any time there and get back to commit the second surgery. >> and as the detectives looked more closely into the doctor's time line that morning, they saw a hole, not a big one, but maybe enough time to kill and get back. they'd learned that second surgery, originally scheduled for 9:00 a.m., hadn't actually gotten under way until 9:40. and why was it delayed? because dr. john hamilton was late. the surgical team was about to get started when they realized
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the doctor was still at home. >> he's supposed to be there, and they have a lady under anesthesia without the doctor. and that is just unheard of. >> to investigators that delay opened up the doctor's window of opportunity by up to an hour. late that afternoon, valentine's day 2001, they arrested john hamilton for the murder of his wife. >> you're under arrest. you're going to be transported to the oklahoma county jail. >> he was jailed immediately and denied any bail. the case now landed in the hands of wes lane, then the district attorney, who would try dr. john hamilton for murder. the prosecutor was well aware of the hurdles he faced, not the least of which the lack of motive. lane looked for signs of spousal abuse in the past but couldn't find anything substantive. until that valentine's day morning there were no anger issues, no history with this guy, nothing hitting the switch and flipping out? >> let's look at it this way. nothing that we could really
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present. >> everyone who knew the couple was saying the same thing. it just didn't make sense for the mild-mannered doctor to have killed susan. even susan's children were standing by their stepfather. >> susan's children, when it first happened, were calling me, trying to find if i knew of any reason somebody or some person might have been there and i don't think they believed it. >> over the next few months, though, with the help of some unique forensic evidence, the da would put together a novel theory of just what happened between husband and wife, something maybe grimly fitting for valentine's day. >> she was talking of leaving him, and so the motive was love lost. >> the state of oklahoma would charge dr. john hamilton with just loving his wife to death. coming up -- the prosecutor, it seemed, had his work cut out for him.
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>> i have never, ever one second, not one moment in time, ever thought he was guilty, ever. >> when "dateline" continues.
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hi, i'm richard lui. a number of children under the age 56 hospitalized with covid-19 reached its highest point since the start of the pandemic. the latest data shows 4 in 100,000 young children testing positive in the hospital, nearly double what it was mid-december. and president biden praised the latest unemployment numbers as december's jobs report showed it fell to 3.8%, a bright spot considering the u.s. added only 199,000 jobs last month, falling well below expectations. for now back to "dateline."
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in december 2001, ten months after the valentine's day killing of his wife susan, dr. john hamilton was being tried for her murder. a crowd lined up to attend the proceedings. loyal patients, former employees and fellow physicians, all standing behind the doctor. >> i have never, ever one second, not one moment in time, thought he was guilty, ever. >> wes lane, the prosecutor, was surprised to find he had an unpopular case on his hands. >> there were people that thought this guy was being sandbagged, railroaded, a very nice, innocent guy was facing a nightmare. >> i talked to everybody from the restaurant waitress that would wait on them on saturday mornings, and she was aghast that we could have charged john hamilton because she would see them at breakfast together all lovey-dovey. there was a vast amount of
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opposition and grand skepticism. >> what he hoped to show the skeptics through trial was that, yes, the doctor was, indeed, a man who loved his wife. loved her maybe too much. >> john hamilton is a control guy. he wants to have everything in control, in order. >> to the prosecutor, the valentine's day card john had received that morning lit the fuse for the violence that followed. in that card, susan had writ ann message alluding to the couple's flare-up just days before. susan, ballistic with suspicions, that he was having a fling with a stripper. the prosecutor told the jury he envisioned the murder this way. the doctor coming back mid morning after his first surgery trying to patch things up with his wife, who majorly wasn't buying it. >> he knew that she was still considering divorce. something happened in that bathroom that absolutely
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triggered him in which he grabbed the ties, and he then surprised her and, in his rage, did all the rest of the work. >> the doctor, according to the prosecution's version, now had to cover up his frenzy by going back to perform a second surgery as though nothing had happened. and here's the thing about that time line. john had to have left the house by 9:20 to make it back to the hospital by 9:30 when he was seen scrubbing up for surgery. susan, as it turns out, should also have left by 9:20 because she had a 9:30 meeting at a friend's house ten minutes away. but from all appearances, she never got much of a chance to get ready. when she was discovered, she was still undressed, her hair still wet, which means if john hamilton didn't do it, be you'd have to believe whoever did arrived right as he was leaving or had been waiting inside all along. >> so somebody would have had to come in, get enraged, surprised her, thrown her to the ground and done the rest.
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>> and in photos of the crime scene, the prosecutor pointed out for jurors something that needed explaining -- a wet rag left in the pool of blood from the victim's head. it looked like the start of an attempted and then abandoned cleanup. >> we could tell the blood had been moved around. we actually believe john hamilton was trying to clean things up before he got paged. >> so you'd have to think that the opportunistic robber breaking in to steal some jewelry and the tv -- >> what motive? and there was nothing -- and there was nothing stolen. >> nothing was stolen and yet there was this curious story that cropped up in the days after susan had been murdered. a friend was combing susan's clothes closet for something appropriate for her to be buried in when she came upon something concealed in an underwear drawer. it was susan's good jewelry. dick horton heard the story firsthand from the friend. >> she calls us and says, i found the jewelry in her
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underwear. >> now what did that mean? >> susan was very a very disciplined individual, she would have never hidden it in her underwear. all after sudden it just clicks that he's trying to make it look like a robbery. >> now this was the reasoninging a the prosecutor saw it. the doctor wanted police to believe the crime had started as a robbery. what do robbers take? jewels. he hid his wife's jewelry before the 911 forces arrive, fully intending to get it out of the house some time later, but he never had a chance to do that or tell the cops the robber never got the jewels. that's because he was put back in the police car and never got back in the house again. and finally there was the story told by blood. the medical examiner had determined that susan had been strangled with two neckties, but her fatal injuries came from being bludgeoned with a blunt object, a murder weapon never found. investigators had to interpret the blood evidence left behind. and for that they hired a blood stain expert named ross gardner.
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>> this was a relatively contained crime seen. a lot of impact blood spattered. >> gardner carefully examined everything the doctor had been wearing that morning. a lot of the blood on his clothing could be explained by his attempt to administer cpr. but the expert looked at hamilton's shoes, the left one in particular, and found that to be a different matter. the shoes were found next to susan's body. john said they fell off his feet as he was attempting to revive her. the expert believed whoever was wearing the shoes that day was present when susan hamilton was being bludgeoned to death. >> effectively the inside and front of the shoe was in motion around this spatter event for mr. hamilton that's radiating out, and the only explanation of that event is the wounding to mrs. hamilton. >> and then there were these
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curious stains on the doctor's shirt, the blood expert thought he saw a similarity between the angular shape and the wound created on susan's head. his theory was the stains on the shirt were left by the murder weapon as it came in contact with the garment. of course he didn't have the actual murder weapon to make a true comparison, but he was able to leave the jury with a vivid impression the doctor's shirt may have taken a kind of photograph in blood. >> it took a 1 to 1 image of mrs. hamilton's head, of the injury, the laceration. we took a 1 to 1 image of his shirt. we overlay it. and you could overlay the pattern transfer right on top of the wound and see immediate matchup. >> but the most damning blood evidence of all may have been found in the doctor's car. on the steering wheel and driver's side seat and door sill crime scene investigators recovered strands of susan's hair and a piece of her flesh. how did they get there from the
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bathroom? to the investigators, the only plausible explanation was that the doctor had bundled up the murder weapon to dispose of it somewhere along the way as he raced back for his second surgery, a bloody bundle that leaked. >> you wouldn't have had time to wash that or you wouldn't have had time to have got ten off your clothing. he left in a hurry, obviously, the first time that he was at the house. so leaving in a hurry, that's evidence that gets transferred from one thing to another. >> by the time the prosecutor had wrapped up his case, he laid out a theory of what had happened, that the doctor had used the neckties to pull his wife down to the ground, then bashed her head in with that murder weapon never found. afterwards he tried to clean up but quickly gave up. this had a lot of dots to connect. >> we knew we had enough dots that if we could get it to lay out in an understandable manner, we knew the jury would be hard
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pressed not to convict him. >> dr. john hamilton, though, was ready to explain it all. and his version of the truth would be completely different from the prosecutor's. his long silence behind bars ended as he prepared to tell the jury and us what really had happened that valentine's day morning. a valentine's day lover's quarrel that had turned violent? not according to the doctor. coming up -- >> the more susan and i talked about things, the more things were clarified, the more things we got straightened out. things weren't nearly as bad as they portrayed them to be. >> when "dateline" continues. la, we're inspired by our circle. a circle that includes our researchers, driven by our award-winning science, who uncover new medicines to treat mental illness. it includes the compassionate healthcare professionals, the dedicated social workers, and the supportive peer counselors we work with to help improve - and even change - people's lives.
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for ten months, ever since that valentine's day when he was arrested for the murder of his wife, john hamilton had kept his silence behind bars. now he would be able to tell his side of the story. mack martin, the doctor's lead attorney, knew it would be uphill. >> we've got a circumstantial case, and i think that the prosecutors in this case were putting as sinister a spin on it as they possibly could. >> to the defense team it seemed obvious from the first moments that investigators never seriously considered any suspects other than the husband. >> the focus was always on john. it was never anywhere else. it was never on any abortion protesters. it was never on anyone -- there were calls that were made to susan that scared her that weren't brought out. >> the defense was dealt a setback at the start of trial. the judge ruled that he would
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not allow any testimony about threats the abortion doctor and his wife may have received. so the strategy would be to pick apart both the evidence and the logic of the prosecution's case. >> i never saw anything to indicate that john said if i can't have you, nobody can. >> after all, only two people in the world knew what was really going on inside the hamilton marriage. john hamilton, who had spent every day since his wife's murder in a jail cell, would finally get a chance to testify about the last days of the marriage, a story he also told to us. >> the more susan and i talked about things, the more things were clarified, the more things weep got straightened out. things weren't nearly as bad as they portrayed them to be. >> as john hamilton told it, by valentine's day the couple had already patched up the raw wounds of that ruckus over his unorthodox relationship with the stripper. the doctor said he had even started seeing a therapist on his own to earn back susan's trust, and that she, susan, had decided to go into counseling
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with him. >> initially she didn't want to go, but eventually she said, yes, i'll go. >> you were seeing her start to go around? >> she even told her best friend sherry i don't believe john had an affair. in susan's mind, the affair was not an issue anymore. >> even the prosecutor, wes lane, to admit john had been telling the truth about that suspected affair. lane had questioned the other woman. had there been a fling? >> no. >> had there been an elicit relationship with the stripper? >> no. >> the doctor refuted the prosecution's case against him point by point like the observation made by detectives at the station that he seemed to be checking out scratches to his shoulder. they had been suspicious earlier back at the house when he had scratched his hands against the page of the police car. he was he nervous about what an examination of his body would reveal? >> i was frantic. i mean, i knew susan was dead. i knew that they were suspecting me. i was scared.
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i was -- a million thoughts were running through my head. the major one is that i'd lost the love of my life. i was never going to see susan again. >> they're going to accuse you of trying to cover up the scratches that susan made defensively as you were killing her. >> if susan had scratched me wouldn't you assume they would have found tissue, blood, dna of some sort under her fingernails? nothing was found. it was looked for extensively. >> prosecutors had made a big deal about the doctor showing up late for his second surgery that morning. was he, in fact, late, they theorized, because he was killing his wife during those moments then trying to figure out what to do next? dr. hamilton had a more simple explanation for being late. he'd been told that the surgery before his was running long, and he decided to use the delay to run home and give his wife a valentine. >> i talked to the surgery nurse, and she said the surgery before yours started 30 minutes late.
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>> so you thought the second operation was going to be backed up? >> right. i still had 15 or 20 minutes. i have a bad habit of trying to do too much in too short a period of time. but because it was valentine's day i wanted to give susan her first valentine's day card and start her day off right before she got busy with her meeting. >> so that was the reason you went home? >> right. and susan was getting ready, you know, trying to get dressed, and we kissed and i gave her her valentine's day card. she went in the closet and got one and gave it to me. >> now the card would later become an issue because people saw it as kind of a smirky line from susan of, well, obviously i got this before the trouble, huh. did you understand what she was saying in it? >> oh, sure. but it also said something to the effect how much she loved me and our time together. >> as for the discovery of susan's hair and blood tissue in his car, hamilton explained it this way. he said after calling 911 he realized the emts wouldn't be
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able to get their ambulance past his car out front, so he raced out to move it. he said he had gotten susan's blood on him from performing cpr, blood that then transferred from his hands and clothes to the car. >> i wanted emt to be able to get in. >> a lot of people don't get that. there might be a spark of life in your wife and you're giving her cpr. oh, i have to move the car. >> i think that just goes to, i think, probably in my heart i knew she was dead but i didn't want to believe that or give up. i just -- i wanted them to be able to get in and help, and i didn't want any obstruction. so, yes, i went and tried to move the car. you know, i was so nervous, i was shaking so my job was unsuccessful. >> the things you say are kind of out of focus, moving the car. the other thing, moving her jewelry, hiding it in her drawer. why did you hide her jewelry? >> i don't know. i mean, because it was out there in view, i guess.
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>> in murder cases constructed on the interpretation of blood evidence, it's not unusual for juries to hear from dueling experts when they go to trial, and that's what happened here. it was seen as a coup for the defense that it locked up one of the most highly regarded blood spatter experts in the nation, tom bevel, a veteran of almost three decades with the oklahoma city pd. he'd even mentored the blood expert used by the prosecution. >> i was hired either the next day or within two days at least of the actual crime by the defense. >> and they thought they were very clever because they took you, in effect, off the market. the prosecution wouldn't be able to tap your expertise. >> i believe they would have thought that, yes. >> as expected his take put his client, dr. hamilton,a better light. for instance, the shirt the prosecution suggested had a blood stain left by the murder weapon, the defense's expert, bevel, couldn't go that far. >> in order to say that, you have to have the murder weapon.
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the murder weapon was never found, so you don't have an object to compare it against. >> and the shoe splattered with susan's blood from different directions as she was being killed, not necessarily a killer's shoe, countered the defense expert, but the shoe of dr. hamilton as he gave his wife cpr. >> he jumped out of his loafer shoes, which would have reoriented them and he jumped over to her side and knelt down to try and assist her and to do cpr. >> bevel was the last witness in the trial. and from everything he testified to under the defense attorney's gentle questioning, he'd helped dr. hamilton. an authoritative figure on the stand turning blood evidence from damning into benign. then the prosecutor rose for his cross-examination. and, oh, how the case changed. the bottom fell out of everything. >> all the air in the courtroom was gone. it was one of those moments.
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coming up -- one of those perry mason moments. >> i've never seen a case like dr. hamilton's where the defense expert offered the most compelling evidence. against the defendant. >> when "dateline" continues.
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i'm natalie morales now with the conclusion of the "valentine's day mystery." here again is dennis murphy. >> tom bevel, the blood spatter expert hired by dr. john baxter hamilton had wrapped up his testimony with the defense attorneys. then came the prosecutor wes lane's turn on cross-examination. now, courtroom lawyers like to talk about perry mason moments when a trial is electrified by unexpected testimony, but it hardly ever happens. it did in this case though. did it ever. the prosecutor tossed out an open-ended question. >> well, mr. bevel, is there anything that either the state's experts or the oakland city police department missed in their examination of the evidence? >> the blood spatter expert on the stand on the payroll of the defense hesitated before
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answering. >> i expected an objection, and i looked at the defense table, which was over to my left. there wasn't an objection, so i answered and said, yes, sir. >> there was a detail that the witness wanted to talk about, something he'd noted what would later be regarded as the atomic bomb in the trial of dr. jon hamm illton. it was about the bloody shut taken for examination. >> there wasn't talk. there was blood on the inside of the right cuff. >> prosecutors had. talked about this stain. maybe they missed it altogether. it was up inside the sleeve. how did it get there? >> that's when he started explaining that the blood spatter inside the sleeve, the only thing he could think of that it was consistent with was jom hamilton when he was beating her with that blunt instrument that was driving that up inside
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his shirt. >> if you can get whiplash in a courtroom, that's what happened. the defense's expert was saying that dr. jon hamm illton most likely created those bloodstains by bashing in his wife's skull. >> it was a shock to everybody. nobody expected that to happen. >> sure. he's saying, look at his shirt. >> the expert is almost saying he's guilty. >> causing the blood spatter. it's a vivid picture. >> it sure is. >> on redirect, hamilton's lawyer tried to defuse the bombshell testimony by suggesting that the spatter could have come by the doctor performing cpr. but that wasn't enough. it took the jury just two hours to reach their verdict. >> we, the panel, do find as follows. the defendant is guilty. >> the doctor realized he'd been
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scuttled by his own man, the expert on blood spatter. >> i still believed that the system would work and that justice would come out, and i was wrong. i was horribly wrong. >> two weeks later he was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. the doctor was still in shock as the judge added his opinion. >> the comments the majority of the jurors made to me, they were disappointed they didn't have the sentence of death as an option, you should consider yourself very lucky. >> but for jon hamm illton, the fight wasn't over. >> you know, i've come to find out blood spatter is junch science. in this blood spatter is real science, why should two prominent national authorities disagree with the findings? one says the shoes is what convicts him.
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the other says it's his shirt that convicts him. they don't agree. >> hamilton hired a new toerngs rob nigh, to appeal the verdict. >> i've been doing criminal trials and appeals for two years and i have never seen a case like dr. hamilton's where the defense expert offered the most compelling evidence against the defendant. >> one of their arguments was that tom bevel should never have been allowed to testify. >> either tom bevel lied to the defense about what his testimony would be or defense counsel took a risk that should never be taken. >> tom bevel denies lying about his testimony, and the courts didn't buy the argument either. the appeals made it all the way to the supreme court but ultimately failed. >> a lot of people say it's time for dr. hamilton to find admit his guilt, be the guy, step up to the plate, and tell the story
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the way it was. >> i'm telling the truth now. if i'm the guy they think i am, then what do i have to lose by telling the truth? i don't have anything to lose. if i really did it, if it would clear my conscience, but i didn't do it. i didn't kill susan. >> for susan's family and friends, the case is now closed, but it may never bring closure. after all, nothing can bring back the beautiful headstrong woman they all loved. >> it's changed valentine's day forever for you and your kids, huh? >> actually we turned it into a positive. it started out as a negative. we changed it to instead valentine's day is a day to celebrate love. there isn't any greater love. >> main gate. >> today jon hamm illton resides
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in prison behind the wall where valentine's day has little meaning at all. >> that's all for this edition of "dateline." i'm natalie morales. thank you for watching. ♪♪ welcome to the show. i'm zerlina maxwell. ten months from right now we'll have the federal midterm elections, the one that determines which party controls congress. but more than that will be at stake much, much more, and i think after yesterday's anniversary, we can all feel that in our bones. elections at the state level will also be crucial to protecting our democracy. when donald trump and his supporters tried to


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