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tv   Dateline  MSNBC  December 30, 2017 3:00am-4:00am PST

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cloud of smoke. >> i can still hear her voice. see her smile. i know she's -- i know she's here. that's all for this edition of "dateline." i'm craig melvin. thank you for watching. i'm craig melvin. >> i'm natalie morales. >> and this is "dateline"." >> it's gut wrenching. a young woman shot three times. this was a murder. >> young single mom out with friends on game day. >> it was packed. >> as night fell, fear grew. >> they're asking us do you know anybody that would want to harm your sister. >> was it someone what was a stranger? was it someone that we knew? i just had this weird feeling
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there was something she was hiding. >> tucked away in her kitchen, a clue to it all. >> on top of their refrigerator, was a manila folder. >> did that just give you chills. >> it was horrible. why didn't she just tell us. >> did a secret lead to murder. >> it's got to been imaginable. welcome to date line. >> when the body of brook morris was discovered by the side of the road, her family started looking for answers. they were surprised to discover that she may have been involved in an allegedly violent relationship. could that revelation be the key to solving her murder. here with nightfall, is andrea canning. >> i'd ask you to close your eyes this morning.
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envision rome county in the middle of october. the leaves are changing. a little bit of a nip in the air. and brook feels like a bomb goes off in her body. this is the second shot. it tears through her chest. she's terrified and in extreme pain. thank you. you can open your eyes. >> this is not be happening. >> it was really the worst day of my life. >> who would do this to our friend. it was horrible. >> secrets exposed.
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would justice be served. >> it was never ending. i was so frustrated. brook the i didn't think to the yankee sglg we balanced each other out. she was girl and i was more the tomboy. i go to her house and change into a thousand outfits and try on makeup and she could come to my house and ride four wheelers and play on the farm. >> sounds like you were like sisters. >> yes. we even fought like sisters. >> this is brook's real sister
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and their mom tina. >> what did she like to do? >> clothes. >> very, very girlie. loved doing hair, stuff like that. >> she was just a girlie girl. >> a little southern belle? >> yes. ♪ >> the little southern belle grew into a beautiful young woman, sometimes blonde, sometimes brunette. brook always drew people into her lively orbit. >> very spontaneous, fun, hilarious, just the life of the party. could make friends with anyone. >> dina renee was one of them. >> she'd say, i'm coming over, we're going out. >> that meant one thing, volunteers football at the university of tennessee. >> oh, my goodness. if you are not from tennessee, you better watch out. the strip is completely packed. there are vol fans everywhere. it is so much fun. lots of cooking out, lots and lots of fun. >> lots and lots of orange. >> lots of orange. >> was this something that brock looked forward to on saturdays?
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>> all of us at that age, that was what you did on saturday. you wanted to get your orange and white outfits and figure out where you're gonna be. >> october 14th, 2011 started out as a fun day. the vols were taking on louisiana state and brook was tailgating with friends. but nightfall, something was terribly wrong. >> 40 miles away on knoxville, a couple was driving down a country road, keeping an eye out r ossing deer, when their headlights caught something else. >> there's a body laying on the side of the road. >> okay, i need somebody to check for a pulse. >> she's a bloody mess, ma'am. >> i understand. >> chief deputy tim phillips of
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the rowan county sheriff's office had just finished watching the football game when dispatch called him at home. >> what information were you given before you arrived at the scene? >> that we had a white female deceased, laying on the side of the road. >> the body had been found after 8:00 p.m. at the intersection of two rural quiet roads. the woman had not been dead for very long. >> when you arrived here, what did you see? >> the victim's body was over here on the side of the road, close to the intersection. >> right on the road? >> white on the white line. >> what did she look like? >> well dressed, wearing blue jeans, boots, a bright orange shirt. she had her purse with her and everything. >> i.d. 'ing the victim was the easy part. her purse was found at the scene. it was 23-year-old brook morris. the hard part would be unraveling the mystery that led to her death on this lonely country road.
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>> was it someone that was a stranger to us, was it someone that we knew? all kinds of things were coming into our heads, trying to figure this all out. coming up: >> what had happened to brook? >> they're asking us, do you know anybody that would want to harm your sister? and we're like, we don't have a clue. >> the hunt for a killer begins and it starts close to home. when "dateline" continues. robitussin soothes in seconds and delivers fast, powerful cough relief for hours. (giggling) robitussin dm max. because it's never just a cough.
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brooke morris had been found dead on the side of a rural road. 40 miles away in knoxville, her older sister brittany felt a sudden wave come over her in the middle of the night. she woke her husband. >> and i said, "i just feel really sick, like, just all of a sudden, really sick in my stomach." and he was like, well, what do you think's going on? and i'm like, i don't know, i just feel really nauseous, and it wasn't 20 minutes later i get a phone call. >> reporter: sheriff's deputies were looking for her mother, tina. >> he didn't wanna tell us much until he talked to mom first. >> reporter: tina was at a friend's house. both chief phillips and brittany headed over there. >> mom, you know, comes to the door. and then she looks at me. and she's like, "it's brooke, isn't it?" and i'm like, "yeah." >> how did you know? what -- >> i knew it had to be because brittany was there, you know? so it had to be. >> i've delivered more than my share of death notifications, and this particular one was -- i'll never forget it. >> i asked her to sit on the couch and we sit there for a second and i said, "you know, we're -- is brooke morris your
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daughter?" and she said, she is. and i said, well, she's been murdered. >> she passed out cold. so we had to get her to, you know, come back to. and i think we were just all shocked. >> reporter: when tina came to, she could hardly process what had happened. >> it was almost like it was not real. you know, "you've got the wrong person. it's not her." >> reporter: but it was real. brooke was dead. she'd been shot three times, once in her neck, once in her chest and an execution style shot to the back of her head. >> i could not believe that another human could be so heartless. >> and you know, they're askin' us these questions like, "who would -- do you know anybody that would wanna harm your sister?" and we're like, "we don't have a clue." >> i could not even think of someone that would wanna hurt
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brooke in any way. everybody loved brooke. >> reporter: but investigators had to start somewhere, although only 23 years old, brooke already had an ex-husband -- clayton morris. she met him soon after high school. >> he was kind of country, you know? they just hit it off. they just had fun together and started dating. and then the surprise popped up. >> she comes home with some news, some big news. >> uh-huh. she was totally excited, of course. i was not so much excited. >> reporter: brooke, then 20 years old, was pregnant. >> i thought brooke was too young, for one thing. and you know, it's just-- it's not what i had hoped for her at that time.
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>> reporter: brooke and clayton were determined to make a go of it as a family. so before they became three, they got married. >> then they had this sweet baby that just stalled my heart in an instant, you know -- >> did that make it all better? when you met your grandson? >> th -- it did, it absolutely did -- >> and -- and how was brooke as a mom? did she just take right to it? >> oh, yeah. >> reporter: they moved into a house and both had jobs. but the young couple soon realized that family life came with grown-up responsibilities and problems. >> did she confide in you at all about how things were -- were not great at home? >> yeah, of course. she talked to her friends about it and we just tried to be as supportive that we can. but we were on such a different level than she was, you know? here we were still single. and she was married with a baby. so hard for us to kind of relate in that area. but i think she -- she knew that it wasn't going to -- to work, you know? >> reporter: after two years, the couple split. brooke moved out and clayton stayed in the house with their son. but, brooke's family says she and clayton were committed to raising the child together. >> well, she lived, you know,
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just a few doors up from clayton and they had shared custody of the baby. >> was it an amicable divorce or did they fight? >> they had some disagreements, you know? they definitely had some disagreements. >> ex-husbands, husbands, spouses, are always looked at? >> they are. >> did you feel he was an important person to talk to as well? >> we did. >> did you call him right away? >> we actually went and seen him. >> reporter: it was the middle of the night, just hours after brooke's body was discovered, when investigators arrived at clayton's house. chief phillips woke him up. >> so what do you say to him then? >> we didn't tell him that brooke was deceased and -- and our main objective is to try to find out what he had been doin' that evening. >> you wanna hear his story before you talk about what happened to brooke? >> that's right. >> reporter: clayton told investigators he had their son that weekend. he said he was at work all day
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saturday and then spent the evening at home. >> could he have left the child and gone out? >> he could have. ♪ coming up: >> scouring the scene of the crime. bullets and brooke's phone. what will they reveal? >> very helpful to us. when "dateline" continues. . . like an "unjection™". xeljanz xr. a once daily pill for adults with moderate to severe ra for whom methotrexate did not work well. xeljanz xr can reduce pain, swelling and further joint damage, even without methotrexate. xeljanz xr can lower your ability to fight infections, including tuberculosis. serious, sometimes fatal infections, lymphoma and other cancers have happened. don't start xeljanz xr if you have an infection. tears in the stomach or intestines, low blood cell counts and higher liver tests and cholesterol levels have happened. your doctor should perform blood tests before you start and while taking xeljanz xr, and monitor certain liver tests. tell your doctor if you were in a region where fungal infections
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in jellyfish. in clinical trials, prevagen has been shown to improve short-term memory. prevagen. the name to remember. >> reporter: brooke morris was laid to rest at just 23 years old. and while her friends said their goodbyes, her mother, tina, admits to being in denial about
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brooke's death. >> i kept thinkin', you know, she's gonna call, she's gonna call, i know she's gonna call. and she's gonna say, mom, you know, it was a big mix-up, you know? i just couldn't grasp that she was gone forever. >> tina had a very hard time. i remember being at her funeral. and tina was holding this picture of brooke and just crying, just hysterically. i mean, two people had to carry her to the gravesite. >> reporter: along with grief there was something else. >> how scary was it to you that whoever did this was out there? >> oh, very scary. i mean, 'cause they've taken somethin' from you. i mean, what are their motives for us? >> reporter: roane county investigators, tasked with bringing brooke's killer to justice, had spoken to her ex-husband clayton morris the night of the murder. >> were you getting any kind of a vibe from clayton? >> you know, sometimes you can read people and -- and, you know, people throw off body
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language but he just seemed like, what in the world's going on? >> reporter: and despite the tension during the marriage and divorce, those who knew brooke best didn't think her ex-husband was a killer. >> i just never entertained that thought. >> clayton was a good person, so i didn't think that, you know, he would be capable of doing something like that to brooke. >> reporter: more importantly, clayton's alibi checked out. investigators cleared him. if not the ex-husband, then who? who had brooke come in contact with that weekend? investigators retraced brooke's steps, starting not with the game on saturday, but with the night before, friday. friends told investigators they had tickets to a concert. >> she was super excited about going to that. so she was like, okay, i've gotta go find something to wear, i'm going to go to dinner. >> reporter: after dinner,
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brooke left her car in a shopping center parking lot near the restaurant, and drove with friends to the concert. she spent the night at diena's house. >> i called it hotel dina like everyone just stayed. >> yeah. >> left it unlocked for everyone, you know. >> reporter: the next day, saturday, was the tennessee/lsu football game. and everyone was looking forward toailgating. but the fun day turned sour. brooke borrowed something out of dina's closet, the girlfriends had an argument about it. >> and i had found out she had wore it without asking. >> reporter: it was a silly fight, but it stuck with brooke. she didn't tailgate for long. >> she had been calling all these people to pick her up to take her to her car because she wanted to change her outfit for the night, for that night. >> reporter: brooke's friend albert dotson had been tailgating with her earlier in the day. >> so we would, like, break off, and i was with some other friends of ours at that time. so i'm not really sure where she was. >> reporter: neither dina nor albert ever saw brooke again. and with more than a hundred thousand football fans flooding the city for the game, finding brooke's killer was like looking for a needle in an orange haystack. >> i thought that maybe someone
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had kidnapped her, you know? and we were all just tryin' to figure out who would have done this and why, what was their motive? it was a very horrible time. >> did you think that maybe it could be connected to the game? >> you never know. you never can -- you can -- you can never rule it out. it's tennessee football. and she so happened to be wearing a bright orange top, and if anybody knows anything about tennessee football, bright orange is a color for the tennessee vols. >> reporter: but brooke's body had been discovered about 40 miles from the football stadium and investigators were still stymied as to how she ended up there. >> did it lend itself to that she maybe was dumped here? or did you think that she was actually shot here? >> based off of everything that was here at the scene, it appeared that she was shot here. >> reporter: the crime scene itself yielded little physical evidence, no fingerprints, no tire marks, and no murder weapon.
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only some brass, as they call it. >> they found spent ammo, they found live ammunition. >> reporter: three shell casings as well as some unfired bullets. all from a 32 caliber gun. that brass was sent to be tested in a lab, while investigators turned their attention to one item at the crime scene that could possibly provide some quick leads -- brooke's cell phone. it was right there, unlocked and in her purse. >> you can find a lot out about a person within seconds of -- of, you know, goin' over the sh -- the person's cell phone so it was very helpful to us. >> reporter: in fact, brooke's phone provided investigators with a major lead to pursue. two leads, actually. two men. investigators wanted to talk to them. but they'd have to find them first.
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>> it's always a concern whenever you have somebody that you'd like to talk to and you can't get to 'em to talk to 'em who were these two men? >> we do consider people like him a person of interest. >> and what was their relationship to brooke? >> there's still something going on that shouldn't be going on. >> uh-huh. ♪ when date line continues. patrick woke up with back pain.
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here's what's happening. two massive lottery jackpots still up for grabs. means tuesday's jackpot will sore. tonight is worth $384 million. meanwhile, the stock market ended the year on a down note. 2017 saw the dow gain 25%. s&p gained 19%. nasdaq staggering 28%.
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now, back to "dateline." welcome back. i'm craig melvin. with very little evidence found at the scene of brook morris's murder, data from her cell phone showed she had been in contact with two men the day she was killed. could one of them be responsible for her murder or was this another dead end? >> reporter: the brutality of brooke morris's murder fueled the search for her killer. >> we really hate that they came into our community and committed such a crime. >> reporter: roane county investigators had cleared brooke's ex-husband, clayton. but they had two other men to look at, two men whose names and numbers were right there in brooke's phone. >> who was brooke communicating with that day that seemed to be of potential importance? >> daniel hawkins. >> this is a man she used to date?
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>> this is a person that -- that we believe that she had a relationship with, yes. >> i think they were talking, nothing too extreme. maybe a couple of dates. >> reporter: albert knew daniel through mutual friends. >> we would just hang out with daniel, you know. i would text him, and be, like, hey man, are you coming out? and he would meet up with us. >> reporter: but albert hadn't spoken to daniel that weekend. and didn't know daniel and brooke had been texting each otr, making plans meet up. investigators say they called the number listed for daniel on brooke's phone. he didn't answer. >> you couldn't find him? >> couldn't find him. >> reporter: investigators learned daniel lived in colorado. he'd just been in knoxville for the weekend. >> were you worried that you couldn't get a hold of him and he was out there? >> yeah, it makes you wonder, you know, what's going on, are they intentionally trying to avoid you? >> reporter: daniel had flown back to colorado by the time he got on the phone with a sheriff's investigator. >> basically interviewed him and got his whereabouts. >> where was he? >> from what i understand, he was at the ball game. >> reporter: daniel hawkins told investigators he was at the stadium watching the football game, as he texted with brooke
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on and off throughout the afternoon. the game ended just before 7:00pm. brooke's body was found just after 8:00 p.m. so if daniel was telling the truth, investigators had to figure out if he had enough time to get through the crush of vols fans, meet up with brooke and make the 40-mile drive here to roane county to commit the murder, all within about an hour. as investigators looked at daniel's timeline, they saw he was still texting brooke long after the game ended. the last text was just a little past midnight. it read, where are you darling? by then brooke had been dead for more than four hours. >> until we clear him and rule him out, we do consider people like daniel hawkins a person of interest. >> reporter: but daniel hawkins wasn't the only person texting with brooke. >> who else had brooke been
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texting with? >> shawn smoot. >> what did you learn about shawn smoot? >> we found out that he ran an allstate office there in west knoxville. >> married, children? >> married, was no longer married at that particular time. >> reporter: amy denlinger is a former employee of shawn's. >> what were your impressions of, of shawn? >> seemed like a nice enough person, outgoing, typical sales, easy to get along with. >> reporter: shawn smoot, the name rang a bell with brooke's family and friends. not long after brooke's divorce, shawn had hired brooke as an assistant in the insurance office. >> i remember the day that she had the interview. we had lunch right before, and she was so excited, you know? >> it was a real job. and i said, there's gonna be so much potential for you to move up in this company, you know. i was really proud of her. >> did you feel like this was kind of the fresh start brooke needed? >> yeah, we did. we thought -- we -- we all thought it was gonna be a good thing for her. >> did she seem happy? >> oh yeah, she loved it. i think there was a couple other ladies in the office that she
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worked with. everybody got along, and she enjoyed it. >> she had formed a really, i guess, tight relationship with her boss. >> reporter: but brooke's family had no idea how close brooke's relationship with her boss shawn smoot actually was. some of her friends did. >> well, she had told me, in the beginning, that she had started working for this guy, shawn smoot. and a little bit down the road, i had, like, saw them out eating or something like that. >> as things progressed in their relationship, i was, like, what's going on here? i was like, this guy, he seems a bit older. you know, does he have a family or anything like that? and she was like, yeah, he's married. >> reporter: an affair with a married man. >> i don't really think that -- she was, like, committed to that relationship. i think it was just her just coming through a divorce. and she had this attention from this man. >> but there's still something
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going on that shouldn't be going on? >> uh-huh. >> reporter: brooke left the job after just a few months. but it was clear, to investigators, at least, that brooke and shawn were still in touch. her phone showed calls between them on the day of the football game. and they'd been texting back and forth. >> did you call him? >> our attempts to call him were unsuccessful. >> another one who's not around? >> that's correct. >> reporter: detectives decided not to wait for shawn to pick up his phone. they went to his house in the early morning hours after brooke's murder. >> you go over there. is he home? >> he is. >> reporter: shawn told investigators he had seen brooke the day before. she'd called him from downtown knoxville asking for help. remember brooke's tailgating plans had gone awry and she'd wanted to go home and change her clothes. she needed a ride to her car which had been left at a restaurant the night before. shawn said he agreed to give her a lift, but said they went to a
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bar to watch the game first. >> he had picked her up and they'd went to, i think, wild wings and buffalo wild wings. it's two different restaurants within the same square mile of each other. >> reporter: shawn said he then dropped brooke off at her car in the parking lot where she'd left it. >> did he say he didn't know where she went after that? >> he was at home. he said he didn't know where she went. >> reporter: so had brooke met her killer there in the parking lot, or sometime later? perhaps she left to meet up with that other guy she'd been texting, daniel hawkins. but as far as investigators knew, shawn smoot was the last person to have seen brooke alive. and as investigators checked out his story, something wasn't adding up. >> so is this one of the first now where this guy's not being straight with us? >> it wasn't one of the first. it was one of the many. coming up, a secret brook never shared with her family
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>> did that just give you chills when you found that manila envelope? >> yeah, it was horrible. when "dateline" continues. with advil's fast relief, you'll ask, "what pulled muscle?" "what headache?" nothing works faster to make pain a distant memory. advil liqui-gels and advil liqui-gels minis. what pain? advil liqui-gels and advil liqui-gels minis. us. it's what this country is made of. but right now, our bond is fraying. how do we get back to "us"? the y fills the gaps. and bridges our divides. donate to your local y today. because where there's a y, there's an us. eight hundred dollars when wet
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>> reporter: investigators working brooke morris's murder case were taking a hard look at two men she'd been talking to the day she was killed. daniel hawkins said they tried to meet up but never did. >> were daniel's friends able to back up his alibi? >> his alibi was -- was verified >> he was really at the game? >> yes. >> reporter: because of the time the game ended, detectives concluded daniel hawkins couldn't have been in roane county at the time of the
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murder. he was eventually cleared by authorities. but could they verify shawn smoot's story? he told investigators he and brooke grabbed a drink after he picked her up. sure enough, here's video of them at one of the restaurants he said they went to. here they are taking their drinks out to the patio. another camera captured the couple leaving at about 6:30 p.m. brooke is walking several steps ahead of shawn, something chief phillips thought was telling. >> normally if people are happy and all that stuff, you think they would walk out together. >> reporter: this is the parking lot where shawn smoot said he dropped brooke off at her car. none of the security cameras around here had the car in view, but it was still sitting here the next day after brooke died. which made investigators wonder was shawn smoot telling them the truth?
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and if he wasn't, where did they really go? so they decided to trace his steps. they pulled his cell phone records and found something unusual. in the two and a half hours after shawn and brooke had last been seen together, there was no activity on his cell phone. and here's what also stood out around 11:00 p.m. his phone started pinging off towers along this major interstate heading out of knoxville. then it looked like shawn turned around. his phone started pinging in the other direction, all the way back to his house. >> did he talk about why he was maybe about to leave town but didn't or why he turned around? >> well, initially talking to him, he had told us that he was home all night. >> so that's an inconsistency for you? >> it is. >> reporter: investigators were becoming increasingly suspicious of shawn smoot. and they weren't the only ones. brooke's closest friends never really suspected her ex-husband clayton, or daniel hawkins, but they knew her relationship with shawn had been stormy. >> she would just, you know, tell me little things here and there.
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>> reporter: her friends say shawn had a temper and kaitlyn witnessed it first hand one night after a dinner. shawn was drunk, kaitlyn says, so she didn't want brooke to drive home with him. >> he did not like that. he began to get very angry. and we drove just down the street, pulled into the parking lot. and i pulled up right beside her car and she opened the door. and shawn was, like, right there, grabbed her by the arm. i told her, brooke, just get back in the car. and so she did. she got back in the car. and we drove off. >> reporter: friends say similar incidents followed, brooke felt shawn was stalking her. showing up unannounced and uninvited when she was out with friends. even after she stopped working for him. >> she definitely knew that something was wrong, you know, after he was obsessive with her,
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calling her multiple times, and texting her, and then stalking her. >> brooke, reached her breaking point and in january, 2011, did something she thought would get shawn out of her life forever. >> i'm done with this situation. he won't leave me alone. i'm going to the wife. she needs to know about the situation. >> i think she was probably tired of living in the secret, you know. she wanted to be free from the situation. >> the wife knows, he'll leave me alone? >> uh-huh, yeah. if i'm honest with the wife, then maybe they can try to work out their problems and he'll leave me alone. >> but it backfired. shawn's marriage imploded. >> she was just like, i've gone to the wife. she's getting a divorce. she's made him move out. >> he lost everything after that. >> yeah. >> reporter: and friends said shawn continued to harass brooke. in fact, they say, things only intensified. >> beyond emotional abuse, was it physical? >> uh-huh, yes. >> she had just told me that
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shawn was getting violent. >> he broke into her apartment one night, came in through the bathroom window, threw her head up against the tile floor. >> reporter: brooke's family didn't know about any of this. the relationship, the alleged violence. it wasn't until after her death that her family finally learned brooke's secret. did that give you chills when you found that manila envelope? >> yeah, it was horrible. >> it was britney who discovered it as she went about the grim task of cleaning out brooke's apartment. >> we were getting things in order to pack away and send. and so i went in her kitchen. on top of the refrigerator was a manila folder. >> britney opened the folder.
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it was an order of protection brooke had taken out about a year before her murder against her former boss, shawn smoot. >> and it was page after page of just crazy stuff that he did to her. and i'm just like, this is horrifying. like, i didn't even know that any of this was happening. >> reporter: the document details a litany of alleged violent outbursts by shawn -- including the time brooke says he broke into her apartment and attacked her. >> why didn't she just tell us, you know, that, this is what i'm going through, i need help. >> why do you think she didn't want to share with you what was going on in her life? >> she knew we'd have a fit. i mean, i would have hunted him myself, for hurting her in any way. and i think she knew that. >> reporter: brooke's friends who knew about the order of protection were surprised to find out she and shawn were talking on the day of the football game. >> nobody knew that she even had contact with him. >> reporter: but to
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investigators, there was something different about this particular order of protection. brooke had asked the judge to allow her and shawn to have social contact. and sure enough they had continued to talk and spend time together. so they had to wonder if things were really that bad between brooke and shawn. the investigation dragged on for weeks. then months. it was almost too much for tina to bear. >> i got really frustrated. yeah, i did. you know, and i'm sure they had to hear my wrath a few times. because you know, i'm a mother. and i wanted to know who did it. and i wanted him put behind bars. >> reporter: but a major break in the case was coming. would a jury be able to put it all together? >> i said, were you directly or indirectly involved? coming up: a murder charge at last. and a powerful moment in court. >> all goes silent and brooke morris is dead. >> i wanted them to envision this young woman being shot three times.
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when "dateline" continues.
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brooke morris' family and friends come to a conclusion, she was in a violent relationship with shawn smoot, a relationship that ended with her murder. >> did it seem so easy to you that they can go arrest him now,
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we know who did it? >> absolutely, but that didn't happen. i kept thinking surely any day now, any day now. >> investigators had suspicions and are trying to build a case against smoot, he was the last to see her alive. they had an allegedly violent relationship, and he lied to investigators. but so far they found no physical evidence tying him to the crime. you were able to search shawn smoot's apartment? >> we were. >> did you find anything? >> empty box that once contained a firearm with ammunition. >> no gun? >> no gun. >> the box was for a 32 caliber pistol, the same as the murder weapon. and the ammo? >> same style of ammunition found at the murder scene. >> without the gun itself, the circumstantial case wasn't strong enough to charge smoot with murder.
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then the crime lab released a ballistics report showing markings from shell casings matched a bullet found in smoot's home. the missing handgun appeared to be the murder weapon. >> that's a huge connection. >> pretty much the connection. >> in june, twec2012, he was indicted on charges of first degree murder. >> did you immediately identify with her being a young woman, clearly so vulnerable? >> absolutely. >> prosecutors bob edwards and tiffany star smith saw this case as a relationship turned deadly. >> we're still talking about domestic violence, we're still talking about orders of protection, and all of the things that go wrong in those situations. >> you had no witnesses. you had no dna from your suspect, you have no murder weapon. there's a lot of things you didn't have. >> if we didn't feel we could prosecute and be successful, we would have never indicted or
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proceeded. >> circumstantial cases allow you to be creative. you can take a set of facts and weave a story together for the thi theory of prosecution. >> shawn smoot insisted he was innocent, cycled through five different defense attorneys and the trial was delayed again and again. >> it was surreal. really, you know, it had been reset 22 times. 22 times. >> that's torture. >> it is. it is torture. >> the trial finally started in july, 2016, nearly five years after brooke died. robert jolly, smoot's fifth attorney, believed the state's case was weak for one simple reason. >> i don't think that they did a very thorough investigation of anyone other than mr. smoot, even his investigation wasn't thorough. >> jolly told the jury how
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little that investigation had uncovered. >> there's no gunshot residue test, there's no dna test, no evidence that finds him in that county that evening. >> the defense sought to prove the evidence the state had wasn't incriminating. the missing gun was the same caliber as the murder weapon, but -- >> there are however many people in this country that own guns. this was a common weapon. >> the defense argued ballistics report linking shell casings from the crime scene to a bullet at his home have no science behind it. >> there's no scientific evidence of that or any standards that show that. >> there's not currently a standard shows every firearm makes unique marks.
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>> as for the volatile relationship described in the order of protection, the defense pointed out that smoot never admitted to any of the allegations and was never charged, much less convicted of any assault on brooke. >> the order doesn't mean mr. smoot did anything, doesn't mean mr. smoot admitted he did anything. >> and the order of protection didn't prevent them seeing each other, which they clearly did. >> miss morris told the judge she wanted to have social contact with mr. smoot. >> jolly argued if brooke was so afraid of smoot, why would she want to keep seeing him. after all, records showed she was the one that called him that day. >> she continued to treat shawn as a friend, as someone she would do activities with. >> did you worry that could be confusing to the jury? >> absolutely. i think that's the underlying question any time we're talking
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about domestic violence. why does anyone go back. >> the prosecutors hoped any doubt the jury may have regarding smoot's guilt would be wiped away when they called a key witness to the stand. amy was working for smoot when brooke was murdered says her impression of the nice, outgoing man that hired her didn't last. >> why did it change? >> he was cold, he got angry easily, not satisfied really ever, almost seemed like he enjoyed getting somebody riled up. >> in court she testified about what happened the monday following brooke's murder. >> on that day did mr. smoot come into the office? >> he came in that morning, when i saw him the first time, he didn't see me, he was crouched under his desk, unhooking his computer and i asked him if he
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was okay and he said no. and i asked him if there was anything i could do, and he said turn back time. >> he had heard about the murder and that he had been to her house. >> at that point i asked him if he was directly or indirectly involved and he said both. >> did you take that as admission of guilt? >> absolutely. absolutely. >> it had taken nearly five years after brooke's murder to get her alleged killer before a jury. took the jury less than four hours to reach its verdict. >> we the jury find the defendant shawn nelson smoot guilty of premeditated first degree murder of brooke nicole morris. >> what's the emotions you're feeling when you hear that word? >> of course we can't show emotion in court. >> what's going on in the inside. >> on the inside i am screaming,
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jumping for joy. >> i was able to give tina greg a hug and see her smile through the tears she had in the last five years. >> this is a moment she had been waiting for. >> yes. i think it was the moment we all had been waiting for. >> for the prosecutor, the case was about more than winning conviction, there's a lesson to be learned. >> for a woman watching this, going through a similar situation. what's the message from in story for her. >> get out. get help, don't go back. it's not going to change. >> speak out, don't be afraid, don't be ashamed because, you know, it is not your fault that you're being treated this way. you should never be treated that way. >> jurors had to decide smoot's sentence. that's when the prosecutor asked them to imagine the horror of brooke's last moments. >> i ask you close your eyes for a few minutes.
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>> were you hoping having a jury close their eyes like that would have powerful impact? >> i wanted them to try to envision this young woman out in the middle of nowhere being shot three times by an angry man she was afraid of. all goes silent. at 23 years old, brooke morris is dead. >> the jury sentenced smoot to life without the possibility of parole. he is appealing his conviction. that conviction and sentence provided comfort for brooke's family but not closure. >> i can't make any more memories with her. the only memories i have are past memories. it is hard. >> she's always in my heart. she will always be in my heart. we had -- i had 23 wonderful years with brooke. i wish i had 53 more.
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but unfortunately i don't. but i know where brooke is, i know i'll see her again, and that gives me hope. that's all for this edition of dateline. i am craig melvin. thanks for watching. good morning, i am dara brown in new york at msnbc headquarters. 7:00 in the east, 4:00 out west. here is what's happening. after the interview, reaction from members of congress and white house staffers, following the president's unexpected chat with reporter at his golf club in florida. not everyone is happy about it. close adviser describes his impact on foreign policy. does this discomfort come with a cost. bitter blast, some are snow bound, others are dealing with dangerous cold. what it means for

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