tv Dateline Extra MSNBC September 17, 2016 5:00pm-6:01pm PDT
>> a sprawling southern family with a pair of church-going grand parents at its heart. >> they're definitely the most loving individuals i've ever met in my life. >> there was no way it was supposed to end like this. >> she took me by the hand and 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. s but their own daughter who admitted to a bitter simmering dispute. >> she needed her stepfather and mother dead so she could get her property back. you've got the victim's blood on your shoe. he was there. or was he? >> no hair, no fingerprint, no
dna? >> nothing. >> a once loving family now gripped by suspicion. >> i had a lot of people in my ear saying that she did it. >> with the terrible truth ripping them apart. >> this cannot 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 a 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 them deep inside 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. the fields back in the day so lush and productive. gone to seed. the farmhouse empty. time was the farmland in the county 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 tobacco barn. my granddaddy built that. >> it was tobacco property? >> yeah, he did farming and tobacco. >> bambi's roots here are as deep as the old oak tree draped in spanish moss that still stands tall 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. we gardened, and we had a big yard. a huge yard. >> you're a country girl? >> mm-hmm. >> but she had 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 that terrible day she'll never forget. >> my daddy and my granddaddy passed away on the same day. i was 12 years old. >> all of a sudden you had lost the two important men in your life? >> mm-hmm. >> it was a bewildering and tragic day. there was so much sudden loss to absorb, that young bambi, not yet a teenager, paid no mind to her grandfather's and father's wills. but it turned out she 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 the family onto the property. her property. most everybody called him big charlie. bambi called him daddy. >> daddy loved hunting and fishing. he always had fish fries and oyster roasts. there were 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 church, and he started a small business selling and installing glass. converting the old tobacco barn into a shop. bambi's mom, diane, worked as a secretary in the public schools. they were a respected, happy couple, salt of the earth. >> she was the backbone of that family. >> bambi's cousins, jessica and amy, loved their aunt diane. >> if your car, literally, stopped in front of your house, broke down, she would make sure you had a meal, and you were warm.
and while she was that, big charlie would be fixing your car. >> good mom? >> fabulous mom. >> outstanding. >> her biggest thing was she wanted to make sure her kids were protected. and their hearts were protected. >> and her daughter, bambi, would need a lot of protecting. the girl was growing up in a rush. married to her high school 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. >> things went from bad to worse. bambi started popping painkillers. just gobbled them down when you could get them? >> i liked the way they made me feel. >> bambi was a single mom hooked on pills and sitting on a piece of land worth a small fortune. diane decided it was time to
intervene before, say, another husband 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 which their grandparents. >> 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 grand ma's the most sweet woman. and everybody says so. >> the boys living at their grandparents', bambi tried to get her own life back on track. that's when she met rick gagnon, a new hire at charlie's glass company.
there was an instant attraction. >> i've always liked the bad-boy image, i guess. like he had the goatee, and the shaved head. i don't know. we just had a good time together. >> was it a serious relationship? >> yes, it was. >> rick was serious, too. he confronted bambi about her demons. >> i told her if she wanted to be in a relationship, then 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 -- i wanted cody and nate there with us. >> grandparents charlie and diane agreed very reluctantly to let the boys move in with bambi and rick. but no sooner had the boys moved than diane was making the case to get them back. >> mama was concerned. >> did she want to hold on to the boys?
>> she said that she would like for them to 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 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 sight. 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 begins. a grisly crime scene, some stray drops of blood just might provide a huge clue. >> it appeared someone involved in the crime is a bleeder. >> that is great evidence. >> it is if you can match it up. i'm in. i'm in. ♪ ♪ one, two, - wait, wait. wait - where's tina? doing the hand thing? yep! we are all in for our customers. ally. do it right. perfect driving record. until one of you clips a food truck. then your rates go through the roof. perfect. for drivers with accident forgiveness, liberty mutual won't raise your rates due to your first accident.
welcome back. bambi bennett collected an inheritance worth a fortune. but when her mom thought her taste for painkillers put the family farm and 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." >> 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 had been dead for hours. the sheriff's cell phone erupted with calls about the shooting. charlie and diane were his best friends. >> they weren't just mine, they were everybody's friends. what we remember is how good they were. how kind they were. and what good people they were. >> down at her house in myrtle beach about 30 minutes from the crime scene, bambi was getting ready to go antiquing with her mom. she called her cell. one of charlie's glass company workers answered. >> i said, can i speak to my
mama, please? he said, bambi, your mama and daddy's dead. >> just like that? >> yes. >> and i said, what? he said, bambi, somebody's broke in here and killed them, shot them. and i just dropped the phone. and then started crying. >> when bambi arrived at the house, yellow caution tape blocked her way. police were everywhere. >> my mom was like freaking out. >> rick tried to comfort bambi. young cody turned to him, too. >> then i remember rick, he was near me, and i was crying on his shoulder. and everybody was just kind of 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 steven stanko, was still at large. >> they were looking for steven stanko when diane and charlie were discovered.
vivian skipper was her neighbor. she run as flower shop nearby. >> is this the kind of thing that you could feel in the air? >> you could feel it in the air. i was at the flower shop. >> probably not too thrilled with the idea of getting in your car and driving -- >> i didn't even want to go home. it was pretty 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. this appeared to be a home invasion burglary. >> first take on it? >> first take, no question. >> it was a gruesome crime scene. the bathroom awash in charlie's blood. there was blood spatter in the bedroom where diane lay. but several feet from diane, there were notably a few small
droplets. >> it appeared that someone involved in the crime, not the victims, was a bleeder. >> why couldn't that be from one of your two victims? >> it was clear charlie never left the area of the bathroom. and it was apparent that diane died where she lay. >> so it looks like your shooter, your intruder is bleeding. >> is bleeding. >> that's great evidence. >> it is if you can match it up. >> while crime scene techs processed the house, investigators started taking statements. big charlie and diane had a large family and knew a lot of people. >> we talked with everybody. the list of people that we talked to is exhaustive. >> a parade of friends, employees, and family was brought down to headquarters for interviews, including bambi and her boyfriend, rick. >> they did gunshot residue tests on all of us. >> including you? >> mm-hmm. >> they had me remove my shirt, with 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 the phone and car keys in the detective's cruiser. she decided she would take her mother's vehicle to get home. >> we didn't have any way to get in touch with anybody. we didn't have anything. and i told rick, i said, see if you can find mama's purse, her cell phone. and so he went in the house. >> police had released the crime scene, but it still looked like one. detectives told the family they would have to clean it up. so rick tiptoed through a bloody mess. what were you seeing? >> all the blood. one of the most horrible things i'd 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, mama, mama, crying and screaming. i stepped into the bathroom,
trying to step around the mess the 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 think i said to bambi, i think i stepped in some blood in the bathroom, and i was wiping my shoe off on sand. she was telling me to wash my shoe, so i wouldn't get blood in her mom's truck. >> that must have been eerie to be in that house that night. >> 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. the progressive girl, at the supermarket buying cheese. scandal alert! flo likes dairy?! woman: busted! [ laughter ] right afterwards we caught her riding shotgun with a mystery man.
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less than 30 miles down the road, was on the run. and 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. i mean, it's always been a wonderful place. it just doesn't make any sense. >> was this more of the murderous rampage of the notorious stephen stanko who was all over the news?
no, said prosecutor fran humphries, who knew stanko had been sighted in georgia at the time of the murders 200 miles away. so this awful thing at the farmhouse, you weren't associating that with stanko? >> i was not. >> not even in the public mind? >> oh, they did. but truly at that time, law enforcement knew that he was physically in augusta. >> rather, humphries focused on the evidence coming from the parker crime scene. he quickly came to believe this was more than just a bungled home invasion. >> it was apparent that nothing had been taken, or at least nothing that you would suspect to be taken in a burglary. >> humphries thought back to curious statements bambi had made in her interview with police when she said she had given it willingly. >> you're sure you're okay to sit down -- >> 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. >> there was a family feud. >> over the land? >> according to humphries, bambi and diane argued over who should control that property. >> diane wanted to make sure that that property was there for the kids. i think she had become convinced that, you know, bambi was not going to be in a position to manage that property. >> i love this girl, my daughter, but she's beyond hope, is that kind of the feeling? >> well, she just can't be trusted with it. >> bambi didn't agree. >> she wanted the property back. >> i had a lot of anger about that. >> but humphries learned the land wasn't the only hot button between bambi and her mother and stepdad. bambi said they also argued over the raising of bambi's boys, cody and nathan. >> were there any issues that your parents didn't want the kids to go back to you guys or anything like that? >> well, yeah.
i understand my mama cared for them. and it was hard for her to give them back. at first we were angry at each other. being ugly at each other. >> diane just wasn't comfortable with bambi having custody of those children. >> in fact, just four months before the murders, a mother/daughter shouting match over the care for the boys got so out of hand, that diane called 911. the responding officer arrived with his dash cam rolling, just moments after bambi had stormed away. >> you're not bothering me at all. >> diane explained the argument to the officer. >> she usually just does what she wants to do. she doesn't provide anything for them. >> diane went on to say she felt threatened by her daughter. >> she scares me. she jerked the phone out of my hand when i was calling. >> then came this chilling pronouncement. >> if anything happens to me, you'll know that she's the reason. >> how telling is that? >> she was in fear, grave fear. >> humphries by now suspected
bambi was somehow involved in her parents' murders. but she was skeptical she could commit a double homicide on her own. so the prosecutor turned his attention to bambi's boyfriend. >> he's aligned with bambi. he was extremely faithful to bambi. >> and according to humphries, willing to do anything for her. you've got the daughter and boyfriend who seem to be in some sort of conspiracy? >> an agreement to accomplish a goal. >> the alibi bambi and rick gave detectives that they were at home 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. you know, 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. you knew somebody else was in the house. >> it could have been rick.
>> as humphries waited for the results, he obtained a search warrant and took another look at some of rick and bambi's belongings. including his shoes. what did the lab analysis say about that? >> it was big charlie's blood. >> the prosecutor didn't buy the story of rick stepping in their blood when looking for diane's car keys. now you have two persons of interest? >> no question. >> ten days after the murders, humphries asked both rick and bambi to take polygraph tests. both agreed.
and both showed deception. >> rick gag none in particular showed deception. >> they 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 give up rick. she didn't do either. >> no, i'm not going to be charged because i didn't do anything. >> you're not going to tell us anything, lock you up? >> but the detectives weren't done yet trying to break bambi. on her way to her booking, bambi said the hammer came down hard one more time. >> they surrounded me like a pack of wolves, and they said, go get those crime scene photos of her mama and daddy. and i said, no, no, no. and i was just trying to cover my face. and he was pulling my hands off of my face. and he said, you did this. you. >> detectives said the same thing to rick gagnon. >> they arrested me. 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 feud breaks out between bambi and her sons. >> i had a lot of people in my ear saying she did it. i are resented her. i hated her. >> when "dateline extra" continues. [ music stops ] [ girl laughs ] ♪ on the road again ♪ like a band of gypsies we go down the highway ♪ [ beetle horn honks ] no matter which passat you choose, you get more standard features, for less than you expected. hurry in and lease the 2017 passat s for just $199 a month.
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the candidate to put his birther past behind him. the candidate is speaking at a rally in colorado. now back to "dateline extra." welcome back to "dateline extra." i'm tamron hall. with a shaky alibi, and evidence mounting, investigators charged bambi bennett and her boyfriend with two counts of murder. bambi's own sons didn't believe in her innocence, but there was one man who did. and he was prepared to fight for her freedom. returning to "the deed," here's dennis murphy. >> bambi bennett sat in a jail cell stunned. she had just been charged with two counts of murder. >> i thought, i'm just having a bad dream. this cannot be happening. not only were my parents just murdered, now i'm being accused
of being the 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. classic question people in your line of work poses, well, who benefited. >> bambi. >> as for bambi's boyfriend, rick, humphries believed bambi persuaded him to help carry out the murderous deed. but both rick and bambi said the prosecutor had it all wrong. they insisted they wouldn't do anything to harm charlie or diane. bambi downplayed the drama over the land despite calling it a feud in her investigation. >> 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, was the allegation she would kill her parents over disagreements about how to raise her boys. >> who does not have disagreements ever with their nate. but that doesn't mean i'm going to kill my mama because we don't agree. that is ridiculous. >> reporter: 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. like, you don't know who to turn to. >> reporter: when did you come to the idea that maybe she was the one that did this? >> it was a mixture of things, like i had a lot of people in my ear saying that she did it. what i came to the conclusion was that she basically, like, put it in rick's head for rick to do it. >> i only thought she had something to do with it from what i had been told. >> i resented her. i hated her. i didn't want to see her face
ever again. >> reporter: it seemed bambi's supporters were few and far between. but one who did believe in her innocence was her attorney jim irvin. >> everybody rushed to judgment in this case. >> reporter: the way jim irvin saw it, the prosecution's case against bambi was a weak circumstantial one that hinged on a bunch of theories as to motive. >> what always bothered me about this case, when you look at the gunpowder residue, there was none on bambi. >> reporter: 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. >> the detective said, we got her. the dna on this boot's going to belong to one of the two people. they couldn't even say it was dna. >> reporter: 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 a detective that same question, he couldn't pass it either. it's too broad a question. >> reporter: bambi sat in jail for six months. >> they were hoping she'd flip and tell them the story. >> that's exactly what they were hoping. >> reporter: 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. >> reporter: didn't have the goods? >> just wasn't there. wasn't there. >> reporter: and yet she's the foundation of your theory? >> there's no question about it. >> reporter: for the time being bambi was able to put horry county jail in her rear view mirror. and with it rick. by now bambi had cut ties with her old boyfriend. sounds like she had your back, rick, and then she didn't? >> yeah. >> reporter: what had happened? >> jail changed people, you know? >> reporter: rick was hoping it would just be a matter of time before he too would be released. the forensics they had against you. no hair. no fingerprint, no dna.
>> nothing. >> reporter: but he did have charlie's blood on his shoe. to humphries, that evidence was part of a bloody trail from the crime scene that was about to lead both the prosecutor and rick gagnon into a courtroom showdown. coming up -- one of rick gagnon's fellow inmates comes forward with a damning story. >> he's been given a fairly detailed account of what occurred that evening and what the crime scene looked like. >> stuff that hadn't been in the newspapers? >> not at all.
prosecutors believed they had enough evidence to bring rick gagnon down. here's dennis murphy with more of our story. 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. >> reporter: the jail yard buddy was named robert mullins, a petty crook who seemed strangely interested in rick's troubles. did he want to talk to you about the case? was he grilling you? >> yeah, all the time. all the time. >> reporter: but then it seemed everyone in this part of south carolina wanted to know more
about the 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. >> so this is purely motive evidence which establishes a motive for richard gagnon to end the lives of these two people. >> reporter: 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. >> reporter: humphries recited rick's version of how blood got on his shoe. how he'd gone into the parker house to get a set of car keys some time after crime scene techs had finished up. >> he looked to his right, which was the window leading in to the bathroom where big charlie had died and noticed the blood. >> reporter: 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. >> reporter: and whoops, i stepped in the blood. that's his story though, right?
>> yeah. >> reporter: but it didn't hold up? >> no, because they were already closed. >> reporter: that was the gotcha. this crime scene photo, said the prosecutor, was taken hours before rick supposedly stepped inside that house. notice the bathroom blinds are drawn. humphries argued that rick could not have closed the blinds because they were already shut. the prosecutor said the defendant was lying, though he believed rick had told the truth about the murders to at least one other person. the state's star witness, robert mullins. the witness i call the jailhouse snitch and you probably call the jailhouse informant. >> oh, he's a snitch. no question about that. at the end of the day, what we learned from robert mullins is that he's been given a fairly detailed account by gagnon of what occurred that evening and what the crime scene looked like. >> reporter: in fact, he said, mullins was the first to tell police this piece of bombshell news.
gagnon had mentioned an accomplice in the killings. >> the only way you can have that information is from someone who was on the crime scene and participated in the crime. >> reporter: 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, actually supported what mullins 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? i mean, she wasn't being tried in this courtroom. >> no. i think it's a travesty. >> reporter: her fingerprints are on this? >> all over it. figuratively. >> reporter: and 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'd manipulated her boyfriend rick gagnon into doing her murderous dirty work.
get back the deed, get her mother off her back. >> he had heard from bambi how, you know, her parents were not fair to her. that they have her land. you know, my parents are horrible people and they've taken advantage of me. >> reporter: to make things right, argued the prosecutor, the dutiful boyfriend and his right-hand man entered the house and hunted down bambi's parents in their night clothes. the jury had just heard a drama of southern gothic proportions, dripping with family greed and hatred. now it was time for an entirely different story. >> none of the puzzle pieces fit. >> reporter: rick's defense team, including attorney barbara pratt, told the court that the state's case was heavy on fiction, light on facts. they had a puzzle, they had neat little pieces, but the pieces weren't exactly right. >> reporter: the state was so desperate to prove its case, she said, it clung to the word of a jailhouse snitch and career criminal. >> a fellow that is there to cut himself a deal and get himself some assistance, i guess, in his own case, is not likely to be credible. >> reporter: 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. >> reporter: and they knew that, she said, because rick had an alibi for the night of the murders -- he'd been asleep in myrtle beach with bambi. the way pratt saw it, the most challenging part of the case was the blood on rick's shoe. to explain how it got there, rick took the stand. he pointed out that on the morning the bodies were discovered police had examined him thoroughly and found nothing. >> if there was blood on my shoes that morning, i'd have been arrested right then and there. there was no blood on my shoes that morning. >> reporter: 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'd 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. >> reporter: 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. >> reporter: were you two in a conspiracy to kill those people? >> no, sir. >> reporter: so who did kill the couple? we don't know, said the defense, but it wasn't rick gagnon. with that, the jurors filed out to deliberate. rick waited with his attorneys. and the woman many felt to be at the heart of it all held her breath. coming up -- the jury renders its verdict. >> i didn't know what to think. i didn't know what to think anymore. >> but this isn't the end of a case because finally investigators learn who left those mystery blood drops at the crime scene. >> he said they identified the killer.
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could is the resolution to this case put a family future to rest? 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 that if god saw fit to have me go home, i would 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 it 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. 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 his words were, yeah, i've never seen that cracker [ bleep ] before. you know, 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 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? he was kind of proud of what he'd done. >> 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 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. 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 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 her completely innocent.
>> 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." there's this pile of leaves, and it's where everything else is clear and flat. my heart is racing a million miles an hour. i was using my boots to move leaves, and that's when i screamed this blood-curdling scream. >> nique leili, a corporate exec. who made time for romance and her three daughters.