tv Dateline Extra MSNBC July 23, 2016 6:00pm-7:01pm PDT
>> that's all for this edition of "dateline extra." i'm tamron hall. thank you for watching. xxxx . they surrounded me like a pack of wolves, and they said, go get those crime scene photos of our mommy and daddy. i was trying to cover my face. and i was putting my hands over my face. they said, you did this. you. i said, i did not. >> a sprawling southern family with a pair of church-going grandparents at its heart.
>> they're definitely the most loving individuals i ever met in my life. >> there is no way it was supposed to end like this. >> she said sugar and charlie have been murdered. >> the former church deacon and his wife, who on earth would want them dead. >> it doesn't make sense. they were loved by everyone. >> everyone maybe. but their own daughter who admitted to a bitter simmering dispute. >> there was a long family feud. >> she wanted to get her property back. >> evidence pointed to her boyfriend as an accomplice. >> you've got blood on your shoe. >> he was there. >> or was he? >> no hair, no finger print, no dna? >> nothing. >> a once loving family now gripped by suspicion. >> i had a lot of people in my ear saying she did it. >> would the terrible truth rip them apart? >> this could not be happening. >> welcome to "dateline extra."
i'm tamron hall. it was a feud of epic proportions. a daughter battling her demons and her mother and stepfather for control of a $1 million property that had been in the family for generations. after both parents were murdered, police began to wonder just how far bambi bennett would go to get what was hers. they followed a bloody trail of evidence leading deep into the family's dispute, exposing ugly secrets and suspicions. but unmasking the murderer would prove far more complicated. here's dennis murphy with the deed. >> the old barn is a shambles now. fields back in the day so lush and productive, gone to seed. the farmhouse empty.
time was the farm land was some of south carolina's finest. bambi bennett's granddad owned a big spread and created a legacy for the generations to come. >> that barn used to be a to back could barn. and my granddaddy built that. >> it was tobacco property? >> yeah, he did farming and could tobacco. >> the tree still stands tall in 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 grandparents' a lot growing up. and we gardened. we had a big yard. a huge yard. >> you're a country girl? >> mm-hmm. >> but she endured her share of heart ache even at a tender age. her parents divorced when she was just 6. mom remarried, then a few years later came the terrible day she'll never forget. >> my daddy and my granddaddy passed away on the same day. i was 12 years old. >> so all of a sudden you had lost the two important men in your life. >> mm-hmm. >> it was a bewildering and tragic day. it was so much sudden loss to absorb, that young bambi not yet a teenager paid no mind to her grandfather and father's wills. but it turned out she had 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 her family onto the property. her property. most everybody called him big charlie. bambi called him daddy. >> daddy loved hunting and fishing. and we always had fish fries and oyster roasts. there was always people down at the barn. >> you call your stepfather daddy. >> mm-hmm. i've always called him daddy. >> big charlie was a deacon at the church. and he started a small business selling and installing glass, converting the old tobacco barn into a shop. they were a respected happy couple, salt of the earth. >> she was the back bone of that family. >> bambi's cousins loved their aunt diane. >> if your car broke down, she would go and make sure you had a meal, or you were warm. and while she was doing that, he
would be fixing the car. >> good mom? >> outstanding. >> 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 sweetheart and divorced after a few months. by the time she was just 24 years old, she had another failed marriage, and was struggling as a single mom trying to raise two boys, cody and nathan. that had to be tough, keep your household going, huh? >> yes. >> and things went from bad to worse. bambi started popping painkillers. the old story, huh? gobbled them down when you could get them? >> 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 fortune. diane decided it was time to intervene 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 those children. >> it was a crushing loss, no question. but bambi agreed at the time the boys were better off. they loved diane and charlie. >> very loving, a lot of outdoor stuff. they spoiled us to death. >> nathan, how about you? >> they were the most loving individuals i've ever met in my life. my grandma was the most sweet woman. everybody says so. >> with the boys living at their grandparents', bambi tried to get her own life back on track. that's when she met rick gagna, a new hire at charlie's glass
company. it was an instant attraction. >> i always liked the bad boy image, i guess. he had the goatee and 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 if she wanted to be in a relationship, she had to 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 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 she would like for them 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, charlie, and bambi had. >> those issues were simmering into an angry family drama. 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. >> inside, things were chaotic, an appalling site. big charlie and diane were dead. the old farmhouse they loved so well was now a crime scene. coming up, charlie and diane parker lying dead in their own
home. the investigation began. a grisly crime scene, some small stray drops of blood might just provide a few clues. >> it appeared that someone involved in the crime was a bleeder. >> so that's great evidence. >> it is if you can match it up. >> when "dateline extra" continues. because safe drivers cost less to insure, which saves money. they let you pay your bill electronically, which saves postage, which saves money. they settle claims quickly, which saves time, which saves money. and they offer home and auto insurance, so you can bundle your policies, which saves money. esurance was born online and built to save. and when they save, you save. that's auto and home insurance for the modern world. esurance, an allstate company. click or call.
welcome back. bambi bennett collected an inheritance worth a fortune. but when her mom thought bambi's taste for painkillers put the family farm and her boys at risk, she stepped in and took control. then mom and stepdad were brutally murdered. was this a random act of violence or did the victims know their killer? here again is dennis murphy with the deed. >> hello? listen to me a minute. >> 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 phillip thompson's cell phone erupted with calls about the shooting, and he rushed to the scene. not to investigate. charlie and diane wer his best friends. >> they weren't just mine, but 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? and he said, bambi, your mama
and daddy is dead. >> just like that? >> yes. and i said, what? he said, bambi, someone's broken in here and killed them, shot them. and i just dropped the phone. and 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 in 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 stephen stanko was still at large. >> they were looking for stephen stanko when charlie and diane parker were discovered.
>> vivian skipper was charlie and diane's neighbor. she runs a flower shop nearby. >> is this the kind of thing you could feel in the air? >> you could feel it in the air. >> probably not too thrilled of getting in your car and drive -- >> i didn't even want to go home. it was really bad in the 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 the county. >> had the house been tossed, rifled? >> it had. you look for things, this appeared to be a hope invasion burglary. >> first take? >> first take. >> 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 notable small troplets. >> it appeared someone involved
in the crime, not the victims, was a bleeder. >> why couldn't that be from the two victims? >> it was apparent that charlie never left the bathroom. and it was apparent that diane died where she laid. >> it looked like your intruder is bleeding. so that's great evidence. >> it is if you can match it up. >> while the crime scene techs processed the house, they 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 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 no way to get in touch with nobody. we didn't have anything. i told rick, 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, and one of the most horrible things i've ever seen. >> rick approached the bathroom where charlie had been killed. he said he noticed bambi through the window pacing in the backyard. >> she was calling out, you know, mama, mama, she was crying, screaming. i stepped into the bathroom.
tried 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 said to bambi, i think i stepped in some blood in the bathroom, and i was wiping my shoe off on the sand. and she was telling me to wash my shoe. so i didn't get blood in her mom's truck. >> that must have been eerie being 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. when "dateline extra" continues. : best cracked pepper sauce... most ribs eaten while calf roping... >>yep, greatness deserves recognition. you got any trophies, cowboy?
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try cool mint zantac. hey, need fast heartburn relief? it releases a cooling sensation in your mouth and throat. zantac works in as little as 30 minutes. nexium can take 24 hours. try cool mint zantac. no pill relieves heartburn faster. welcome back. a south carolina farm community was reeling after the murders of a beloved couple. the suspect in two additional crimes miles down the road was on the run. a manhunt was under way.
were these slayings related or was this double homicide about money, family and the struggle to control both? or maybe this was about something else entirely. continuing with the deed, here's dennis murphy. >> 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. 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 stampgo had been sighted in georgia at the time of the murders 200 miles
away. even in the public mind they made that connection. >> 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 sur use statements bambi had made in her interview with police which she said she had giving willingly. >> you're sure you're going to sit down and do this? >> i want to help you. >> soon after the interview started, bambi, he said, began describing in detail a feud within her family. the issue was the land bambi owned and that her parents were living on. >> like a family feud. >> over the land?
>> for 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? >> she just can't be trusted with it. >> bambi didn't agree. >> she wanted the property back. >> there was a lot of anger about that. >> but humphries learned the land wasn't the only hot button between her mother and stepdad. bambi also admitted they argued over the raising of bambi's boys. >> they were issues where 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, you know, to give them back. at first we were angry, you
know, at each other, being ugly to 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 dash cam rolling, just moments after bambi had stormed away. >> i'm sorry to bother you -- >> you're not bothering me at all. >> bambi explained it to the officer. >> she does what she wants to. >> 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 she's the responsible person. >> how telling is that? >> she was in fear, in 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 gagnone. >> he's aligned with bambi. he was extremely faithful to bambi. >> and according to humphries, willing to do anything for her. you got the daughter and boyfriend who seemed to be in some sort of conspiracy the theory goes? >> the agreement to accomplish a goal. >> the alibi bambi and rick gave detectives in the hours leading up to the murders was difficult to prove. each gave the other as a witness. >> she said we were at home. rick was there, i was there, the 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. >> the results were back yet. it could have been richard. >> he obtained a search warrant and took another look at some of
rick and bambi's belongings, including their shoes. >> there's blood on his 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 bambi's mother's car keys. they also found what they thought was blood on bambi's boots. now you have two persons of interest? >> no question. >> they asked both rick and bambi to take polygraph tests, both agreed, and both showed deception. police then sat rick and bambi 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 would give up. she did neither. >> i'm not going to be charged because i didn't do anything.
>> we're done. you're not going to tell us anything, lock you up. put handcuffs on her charged with two counts of murder. >> but the detectives weren't done yet. bambi said the hammer came down hard one more time. >> they surrounded me like a pack of wolves. 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. he said, you did this. you. >> detectives said the same thing to rick gagna. >> they arrested me and 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. the county could sleep easier at night with case closed. but was it case solved? coming up, a new family's feud breaks out between bambi and her sons. >> i had a lot of people in my ear saying that she did it. i hated her. >> when "dateline extra" continues. scount. because safe drivers cost less to insure, which saves money. they let you pay your bill electronically, which saves postage, which saves money. they settle claims quickly, which saves time, which saves money. and they offer home and auto insurance, so you can bundle your policies, which saves money. esurance was born online and built to save. and when they save, you save. that's auto and home insurance for the modern world. esurance, an allstate company. click or call.
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the two the ultimate insiders, urging voters to not let obama have a third term. now back to "dateline extra." welcome back to "dateline extra." i'm tamron hall. with a shaky alibi, a clear motive 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 one 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. the classic question that people in your line of work poses, who benefited? >> bambi. >> as for bambi's boyfriend, rick, humphries believe she persuaded him to carry out the deed. but rick and bambi said the prosecutor had it all wrong. they insisted they would never do anything to harm diane or charlie. >> 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 is tell mama that. >> also absurd, she said, is the allegation se 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 saying she did it. i came to the conclusion 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
something i had been told. >> i resented her. i hated her. i didn't want to see her face ever again. >> it seemed bambi supporters were few and far between. but one who did believe in her innocence was her attorney, jim ervin. >> everybody rushed to judgment in this case. >> he saw the prosecution's case against bambi a weak, circumstantial one. >> 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 got her. the dna on this boot is 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 asked the 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? >> it just wasn't there. it wasn't there. >> yet she's the foundation of your theory. >> no question about it. >> for the time being, bambi was able to put ory county jail in her rear-view mirror, and with it, rick. by now bambi had cut ties with her old boyfriend. sounds like she had your back and then she didn't. what happened? >> jail changes people. >> 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 the prosecutor and rick gagnon into a courtroom showdown. coming up, one of rick's fellow inmates comes forward with a damning story. >> he's been giving 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. >> when "dateline extra" continues. you're here to buy a car.
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boyfriend, prosecutors believed they had enough evidence to bring rick down, including a surprise witness. here's dennis murphy with more of our story, "the deed." >> 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. was he grilling you? >> 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 rick gagnon for the murders of charlie and diane parker. a camera was rolling as prosecutor fran humphries began his case. >> this is purely the 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 reside rick's version about how the blood got on his shoe, how he went in the house to get car cars after crime scene techs had finished up. >> he looked to his right, which is the window leading into 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. >> oops, i stepped in the blood, that's the story, right? >> yeah. >> but it didn't hold up? >> no, because it was already closed. >> that was the gotcha. the crime scene photo was taken hours before rick supposedly stepped inside that house. notice the bathroom blinds are drawn. humphreys 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 truth about the murders to at least one other person. the state's star witness, robert mullens. the witness i call the jail house snitch, you probably call the jail house informant. >> no, he's a snitch. 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 was at the crime scene and participated in the crime. >> and 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, 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. >> i think it's a travesty. >> her fingerprints are on it? >> all over it, figuratively. >> that's just how he laid it out in his closing. he told the jury this was a story about a spoiled woman, bambi bennett, who had manipulated her boyfriend into
doing her murderous dirty work. get back the deed, get her mother off her back. >> he had heard from bambi how her parents were not fair to her. that they had ther land. my parents are horrible people. and they've taken advantage of me. >> to make things right, argued the prosecutor, the dutyful boyfriend and right-hand man entered the house and hunted down bambi's parents in their night clothes. 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 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 jail house snitch and career criminal. >> a fellow that is there to cut himself a deal and get himself
some assistance 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 of 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 2 git got there, rick took the stand. >> 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 worried simply that bambi might see the horror inside. >> i went in and shut 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. >> 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 learned who left those mysterious blood drops at the crime scene. >> they said they identified the
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welcome back. the jury was about to decide rick gagnon's fate. but the verdict wouldn't be the end to this twisted tale, not by a long shot. and 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." reporter: 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'd found him guilty. >> two counts of murder. received two life sentences. >> reporter: that's called a pine box sentence. >> pretty much. >> reporter: you're going to get out of the system in a pine box when you're dead. >> yeah. >> reporter: bambi bennett said she didn't want to be in court for the verdict. her attorney, jim irvin, 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. >> reporter: rick felt as though he'd been sandbagged. >> i believed if god saw fit to have me go home, i'd go home. >> reporter: and that, thought rick, was about all he had left. faith in god and a good appellate lawyer. in this case, bob dudek. >> in my 22 or 23 years of being an appellate defense attorney, rick gagnon was only one of about two or possibly three people that i genuinely believed was innocent. >> reporter: 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 was all, like, excited about something.
>> reporter: authorities in tennessee, the prisoner told rick, had just arrested someone for a home invasion there. he told me, he said they identified the killer. >> reporter: that man's name was bruce hill. when tennessee authorities ran his dna through the database, they had a match to the mystery blood found at the parker crime scene. in 2011, a jury convicted hill of the murders of big charlie and diane. his motive for the crime was never firmly established. >> reporter: who's bruce hill? did you know that name? >> no. >> reporter: did you ever see him at the farm property on job sites? >> no, never. >> reporter: but rick's lawyer needed proof that there was no connection between the two men, so he paid hill a visit. >> bruce hill's shown a picture of rick gagnon and -- and his words were, "yeah, i've -- i've never seen that cracker, mother [ bleep ] before." bruce hill had been unambiguous
and was very blunt that he did not know rick gagnon. >> reporter: 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. >> it was 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. >> reporter: and there were developments? >> yes, sir. >> reporter: namely, the arrival of a new inmate. >> and i was in the chapel at the time. it was my job assignment. and he was brought into the chapel. >> reporter: one day the man opened up and stunned rick. he said he'd known a guy in jail named, wait for it, robert mullins, the very same who'd testified against rick. the man then said that mullins 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, you know. >> reporter: that mullins had lied? >> yeah. yes, sir. >> reporter: was kind of proud of what he was able to do?
>> yeah. >> reporter: now this 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. >> reporter: because mullins' story was that important in getting the conviction? >> right. >> reporter: the judge vacated rick's conviction, saying the new county solicitor, the one who had replaced humphries, could re-file charges if he wanted. the solicitor said he did not. so in 2013, after eight years inside, rick gagnon walked out of prison. he's settled on the carolina coast now, married with children. >> just the smell of the ocean, you know? it's like freedom. it was a terrible thing that, you know, i went to prison for something i didn't do. it's changed my life. >> reporter: his old girlfriend believes her life was upended 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
connection 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 every -- destroyed me. >> reporter: but there is something she'd like from the people of horry county, south carolina. >> reporter: 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. >> reporter: she'd like nothing more than an apology from you for the heartache you've caused her. >> yeah, she's not getting that. no, she's entitled to something from me. but an apology is not it. >> reporter: what should she expect? >> i would have liked for her to have received justice in the case. >> reporter: meaning, he would have liked her charged, tried and convicted. >> and i would have liked to have been an agent of that justice. >> reporter: all but forgotten amidst all the finger pointing are bambi's sons, cody and
nathan, reeling from once hating their mom to now believing completely in her innocence. >> i don't think she had anything to do with it. >> reporter: 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 just took a while before you really were able to trust her with all your feelings and really tell her you loved her and hugged her and mean it, every bit of it. >> reporter: you can be her sons again? >> right. definitely. >> reporter: for that, at least, bambi is grateful. for the future, she's hopeful, even if every once in awhile 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 their time in the beginning we wouldn't be in this predicament today. >> reporter: 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. i'm tamron hall. thanks it was tough. it was tough to think that anybody could do that to someone. to look at the pictures of what they did to her and hear details of how it was carried out. it's just, it's devastating. >> reporter: shauna tiaffay, loving mom by day, vegas cocktail waitress by night. >> i was at one of the bars and i saw her walk by. every single head tu