tv Dateline MSNBC March 2, 2019 12:00am-2:01am PST
the courtroom was packed with reporters and spectators, many of whom had waited hours to witness this historic event. the grand jury foreman presented the indictment and sealed from the grand jury. the judge accepted the indictment and silently opened and read the sealed report. he then announced that the report and the evidence would special prosecutor leon jaworski said it would be a long and protracted affair, lasting three or four months. the judge then set saturday, march 9th, as the date for arraignment. gordon graham, abc news, washington. >> those of you who still have sharp eyes this late in a friday night might have noticed a familiar face. among the assistant special prosecutors captured by the nbc news camera was our own jill wine-banks. good night from nbc news
headquarters in new york. she was a mom looking for her baby, and her baby hadn't come home. >> reporter: cathy's week had been nothing but trouble. >> she couldn't tell me what happened. >> she was so upset. >> reporter: it was about to get much worse. >> my mom would say "if you find the car, you'll find cathy." >> you didn't want it to be dark because you wanted to keep looking. >> she was stabbed multiple times. there was blood within the interior of the car. she was a targeted victim. >> reporter: who killed cathy? >> we had no witness. we had no confession. we had no dna. >> reporter: 20 years went by. >> i still had to keep looking for what i had lost. >> reporter: but cathy had her. and she had him. >> i put a lot of faith in god. darren was his tool. >> and the killer? he never had a chance.
>> this was everything to her. i fulfilled my promise. >> reporter: in the wee small hours of the morning, while the whole wide world is fast asleep, mary bennett is awake. not because she wants to be, but because some things stay with you, whether you want them to or not. and for mary bennett, it's the time -- 3:40 a.m. >> every day i wake up around that time. it's embedded in my brain. >> reporter: for more than two decades, that particular time has stabbed her in the heart, pulled her awake. it's an internal clock, permanently set to the worst day of her life. it began with a phone call, then a knock on the door, and news of something that should never have happened to this family, to this
girl. >> when she would come inside the house, her favorite thing was, "i'm home. what's for dinner?" even if somebody -- we just finished cleaning the kitchen, she'd still ask, "what's for dinner?" that was cathy. >> reporter: cathy torrez grew up in placentia -- a small town nestled amongst the sprawling cities of southern california. >> even as a baby she was a good baby. >> reporter: mary bennett is cathy's mother. >> she was always happy, always running, and always very loud, and always smiling. >> reporter: that radiant smile shined everywhere she went, says cathy's sister tina. >> cathy was energetic. she was happy. she loved to laugh. >> reporter: cathy was one of four siblings. there was younger brother marty and the baby, debbie. tina was the eldest. she watched as cathy excelled in school. >> cathy was exceptional. cathy made her own way.
she didn't follow a role model. >> reporter: nobody guiding her and nobody pushing her. >> exactly. she had her own drive. >> she used to tell her younger sister that she had to leave her mark. you had to leave your mark in this world so that people would remember you when you moved on. >> reporter: you have to leave your mark on the world. did you teach her that? >> no, that was just her. >> reporter: seems like an admirable thing for a kid to come up with. >> well, cathy was different. >> reporter: beautiful, smart and social. and popular. you knew more about her dating life than maybe your mom and dad did. >> yes, i believe to some extent, yes. >> reporter: cathy dated a few guys in high school, but no one she was terribly stuck on. and then in 1994, out of high school and a young woman of 20, cathy started to see a boy named albert. a boy she'd played with as a child, and was now interested in romantically. were they boyfriend and
girlfriend? >> she said that they were, you know, seeing each other, but it wasn't anything serious or formal that i knew of. that's how she explained it to me, you know, he was a nice guy. >> reporter: cathy's plate was full that february of 1994. she was an honors student at cal state fullerton, holding down two jobs -- one at the local drugstore and another as a teacher's aide -- all to pay for college. and now she was also seeing a new guy. just a few days before february 14th, cathy told sister tina what she wanted for valentine's day. >> she said, "tina, i would just like it if somebody gave me a dozen red roses for valentine's day." and i said, "yeah, that's all you want?" she said "i would just like a dozen red roses." >> reporter: she had never received a dozen roses from anyone, but that year she was hopeful. it was saturday, february 12th, when cathy went off to her job at the drugstore. how was she that morning? >> she was fine.
just routine. nothing out of the ordinary. >> reporter: tina was trying to catch up with cathy that day before she went to work, but just missed her at home, only to see her moments later in traffic. >> we saw each other and she gave me the biggest smile that i will always remember. she saw me. we looked at each other. it was a beautiful smile. >> reporter: that smile, that moment, burned into her memory. cathy's shift ended at about 8:00 that night. she was supposed to come straight home. but mary didn't see her. so 9:00, 10:00 comes, you're not worried? >> no, i wasn't worried. >> reporter: saturday night -- she probably went out after work. >> yeah. >> reporter: but then sunday morning came, and still no cathy. cathy's family launches a search.
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♪ oh my momma she gave me ♪ these feathered breaths ♪ ♪ oh my momma check in from afar with remote access. and have professional monitoring backing you up with xfinity home. demo in an xfinity store, call, or go online today. valentine's day, 1994, was two days away, but mary bennet's heart was already racing and for all the wrong reasons. her daughter cathy torrez never came home after her shift at sav-on ended. and the next morning, there was still no sign of her. mary called cathy's friends and no one had seen her. so mary got in the car and scoured the streets of
placentia, searching for cathy and her red toyota corolla. cathy's sister tina saw the wrenching worry in their mother's face. >> she was a mom full of pain. she was a mom who -- who was hurting because she was looking for her baby. she would say, "just find the car." if you find the car, it was like an equation. find the car, you'll find cathy. >> reporter: you get any sleep sunday night? >> no. just waiting. >> reporter: you don't want to call the police because that makes it real? >> that's right. it makes it real because you're still holding onto the hope that she's going to come running in through that backdoor. >> reporter: by monday, cathy still wasn't home. panic was setting in and mary called the police department to report her daughter missing. and the police said? >> "well, you know, you don't know that. maybe she went off and --" but i knew. >> reporter: that she could have met some guy and they're in vegas right now. and you're saying -- >> no. >> reporter: not possible?
>> at that point you want to yell and scream at them and tell them, "that's not true. you don't know, not my cathy." >> reporter: the torrez family was not going to wait for police to catch up to what they already knew -- that cathy was not someone who'd just disappear. they went to reporters. mary spoke to knbc in los angeles. >> this is one thing that nobody should have to go through. >> reporter: and took the search into their own hands. >> the police department wasn't receptive. so i told my mom, "okay, give me a picture." >> reporter: tina was in charge of flyers. mary worked the phones at home. and younger brother marty kept watch in front of sav-on. >> hi, did you guys receive a flyer? >> reporter: soon it wasn't just the torrez family searching for cathy. >> we know god's there for you. >> reporter: police did jump on the case, and it seemed as if all of placentia did too. >> we had strangers, people coming to the house asking, "what can we do? where can we take the flyers?
can we have some flyers" to pass out flyers. >> reporter: tina drove to the school where cathy worked. all the while, mary's mantra echoed thru her mind -- find the car and you'll find cathy. >> when i drove into the parking lot, i said, "let me just see her car. let me just see her car." because i knew a lot of things were going on in her life, you know -- you know, in that week prior. >> reporter: a lot of things was an understatement. cathy's family was very worried about her state of mind after a strange and terrifying series of events that had happened the week before she vanished. first, she'd come home the previous saturday in a bizarre state -- incoherent, unable to stand up. >> she couldn't get out of the car. my son went out to help her. >> reporter: that cannot have made you happy. >> no, it didn't. because i had never seen her come home like that.
and she couldn't tell me what had happened. >> reporter: she smell like alcohol? >> no, she didn't. that was -- that was the scary part to me that, you know, that she did not smell like alcohol, yet something was wrong with her. >> reporter: even more alarming, mary later realized cathy's underwear was missing. what you're describing is what happens when people come home after they've been date raped. >> well, yes. >> reporter: you know, they can't remember what happened. they're maybe not wearing all their clothes and they are clearly under the influence of something. >> well, yes. i was afraid that maybe that had happened to her. but i didn't know for a fact. >> reporter: and she had no memory? >> and she had no memory. >> reporter: you think about calling the police? >> sadly, no. i didn't think about that. >> reporter: it didn't end there. the next morning tina saw cathy's car. >> i remember looking at the tires and saying, "what happened? how could this be?"
the way they -- they were slashed. >> reporter: it was deliberate. >> i just kept saying, "what happened to your tires? who slashed your tires?" >> reporter: and she'd say? >> and she'd say she didn't know. >> reporter: but the worst was yet to come. two days after cathy came home in that strange condition, her new boyfriend albert rangel apparently tried to commit suicide. he even left a note that seemed to be in his own handwriting. all of this just days before cathy disappeared. albert hanged himself at work, but he didn't die. he lingered in a coma in the hospital. and cathy was devastated. >> she was so upset. she was crying. she couldn't believe that someone would do something like that. >> reporter: and now the torrez family was left to wonder if and how all of this connected to cathy's disappearance. >> just felt like you were out in this time warp. you know, there was no days and no nights. and you didn't want it to be
dark because you wanted to keep looking. >> reporter: the next big search was planned for saturday morning, february 19th -- one week since cathy had last been seen. >> we got all the maps ready, and we had just got another box donated of flyers. and everything was set. >> reporter: and then around 3:40 a.m. saturday, there was a knock on mary's front door. police find cathy's car. >> cathy's shoe was on the floorboard and there was blood within the interior of the car. >> what had happened to cathy? who do you think takes more pride in how they craft their orange juice? the corporate executives of coke and pepsi, or the farmers of florida's natural? only florida's natural is always made in florida by florida farmers. great taste. naturally. ♪ 'cos i know what it means
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>> a police officer. >> reporter: he asked for cathy's keys. >> i gave him the key and i asked him if it was cathy's car. and he just looked straight and he didn't look at me. and he said he didn't know, that they had just told him to come and pick up the key. and he left. >> reporter: find the car and you'll find cathy. it had become practically a family motto. so when another officer arrived hours later, the torrez family was waiting for what they had dreaded all week. >> my mom asked him what had happened. "did you find cathy?" and then he looked at my mom, and he said, "i'm sorry." and all i remember were the flyers that were on my mom's table in the living room and feeling so much pain.
i was yelling, "not my cathy. not cathy." >> reporter: mary bennett had been right all along. cathy's toyota corolla had been spotted in a hospital parking lot. a plastic bag was peeking out of the trunk. officers opened it, and cathy torrez was missing no longer. >> she had been stabbed multiple times. all about the upper chest and neck. >> reporter: detective sergeant daron wyatt. >> you know, there's no way to time the death. but i think it's pretty safe to assume that she had been dead since she disappeared on that saturday night on the 12th. >> reporter: it was devastating not just for the torrez family but for all those in placentia who'd been searching so tirelessly for cathy. >> she was a vibrant, very intelligent young girl. this is truly a tragedy. >> reporter: detectives went to work trying to find cathy's killer. they set up a hotline.
>> if you have any information regarding the homicide of cathy torrez -- >> reporter: and scoured placentia for clues. by studying her car and her body, investigators got a sense of what happened. first, cathy was completely clothed. no sign of a sexual assault. and one more thing also seemed clear. >> most likely the attack started in the car. there were pieces of the gearshift that were broken, pieces of the center console that were broken, as if a struggle had occurred. and then there was blood within the interior of the car. >> reporter: orange county prosecutor matt murphy later reviewed the case. he noted blood on everything the killer must have touched -- the steering wheel, above the glove compartment, the driver's side armrest and, of course, the trunk release. but one noteworthy place where there was no blood? the driver's side seat lever. 4'11" cathy drove her car with
the seat moved closest to the steering wheel. but when police found the car, the seat was racked all the way back. suggesting that somebody taller than cathy was operating the car. >> not only operating the car, but did that before the murder itself took place. because that was touched, and that seat was moved without any transfer of blood at all. so the seat was moved back before the killing started. >> reporter: and, if so, perhaps it was because cathy knew her killer and opened the door for him or her. investigators also found cathy's right shoe on the floorboard of her car and her sock covered in dirt. she got out of the car? >> yes, absolutely. cathy had fled from the vehicle on foot, had most likely been caught and attacked again before she was ultimately placed in the trunk of the car and died. >> reporter: she fought pretty hard to get away. >> she did. she ran for her life. >> reporter: to detectives, this was not a sex crime or a robbery.
more than 70 stab wounds suggested something else. >> there's nothing random about it. she was a targeted victim. >> reporter: and perhaps the most chilling clue -- a letter in cathy's own handwriting found tucked away on the passenger side of cathy's car. she says in the letter it's a little after 8:15. >> it's -- yeah. "it's 8:15, just finished my shift. today was crazy. everybody was all buying v --" and the "v" was for valentine's day. >> reporter: and that's as far as she got? >> that's as far as she got. so she's interrupted mid-sentence. >> reporter: just who had done that? detectives weren't quite sure. daron believed the letter was intended for albert, who at the time of cathy's murder was lying in a coma in the hospital after a suicide attempt. he never woke up, and died almost two years later. >> obviously you have to look at all of that, and you have to ask, "is there something that's involved in that?" >> reporter: it was almost too strange to imagine. except to police.
>> there were rumors within the community that that may have been the motive for her disappearance and murder, was that, "hey you need to look at the rangel family." >> reporter: members of albert's family, the rumors said, were angry with cathy, thinking that she might have been the cause of his suicide attempt. >> because of his relationship with cathy and the fact that she wasn't as serious about him as he was with her. so that had to be examined, it had to be looked at. >> reporter: so the investigation continued, as people in placentia paid final respects to the friendly cashier they knew from sav-on. more than a thousand people attended cathy's funeral. pretty impressive. >> the kind of person cathy was. she touched a lot of people, and they remembered her. >> reporter: she left her mark. >> she did. >> reporter: cathy had hoped for a dozen red roses that february. instead her family remembered her with a headstone. "your smile will shine forever."
that wasn't the only promise cathy's mother made. >> i didn't know how long i'd be -- i would have to wait. but i knew that we had to do everything that we could to get the answer. >> reporter: because? >> because she was my daughter. and someone had taken her away from me. someone had done something horrible to her and they -- someone needed to be accountable. >> reporter: no one could have imagined at the time just how long mary's quest for justice would take. detectives have a few questions for one of cathy's closest friends. >> the minute i said no to her, she blew up. she started cussing me out. i knew about the tremors. but when i started seeing things, i didn't know what was happening...
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>> cathy had so much to live for and was a very happy person, a people's person. >> reporter: that was armando lopez speaking back in 1994. armando was cathy's brother-in-law, tina's then husband. but that wasn't the only connection between the two families. it turned out cathy had dated armando's younger brother, sam, off and on. and the families lived right down the street from each other. you can see one house from the other. >> exactly. >> reporter: and she's going out with sam. >> uh-huh. >> reporter: you marry his older brother. >> uh-huh. >> reporter: so that house wasn't just another house on the street. >> right. >> reporter: it was family. >> right. right. >> reporter: police spoke with members of the lopez family. sam knew cathy the best. >> how long have you known cathy? >> jeez, i've known her for over five years. >> reporter: they interviewed him down at the station. >> yeah, i really had fun with her. like i said, that person, i'm serious, would always have a smile.
we would always be laughing, making jokes. >> reporter: given their friendship, detectives were curious about what cathy might have shared with sam about albert. since albert tried to commit suicide, she was taking it pretty hard. was she confiding in you? >> the only thing she mentioned about him was that he hung himself and she was sorry for him doing that, because she thought it was his -- her fault, okay? that's -- that's how she said it to me. we never really sat down and talked about it. well, you know what? i think she was trying to hide from her problems by smoking out. >> reporter: meaning she was smoking marijuana. cathy's family said that for her, that would be out character. sam told detectives he had last seen cathy the thursday before she disappeared. he said she'd paged him several times that day and when they finally met up -- >> she asked me for some weed, you know? and then she kept on asking me, "so are you going to give it to me or what?" and i go, "you know what?"
the minute i said no to her, she blew up. she started cussing me out. you know, and, "if i don't get it through you, i'm going to get it through somebody else." >> reporter: and then, sam said, cathy got in her car and took off. >> so i'm like, you know, i mean, what can i do now? i mean, shoot, a girl cusses you out, i mean i can't go chasing after her. you know, 'cause i never thought she was going to -- i mean, this was going to happen. >> reporter: sam shared his suspicions about what had happened to cathy. the same rumors about albert that were circulating around placentia. >> but you know what? hey, it's a possibility that, shoot, somebody else from his family -- i'm not blaming anybody. i'm not pointing fingers at nobody, okay? but why -- why the coincidence that after he hung himself, this happened? why? have you ever thought of that? >> reporter: of course, police also asked sam where he was the night cathy disappeared. >> could you tell us where you
were saturday night, this last saturday? >> sure. >> we're asking everyone. >> no. that's fine, that's fine, i understand. i was up in corona. i was helping my friend, a friend of mine moved. >> reporter: sam told police how he and his cousin javier helped their friend move in the afternoon, and then he said he dropped javier off at his home. >> where'd you go from there? >> from there i went to my girlfriend's store. and i was there till, shoot, till they closed, which was around 8:00, a little bit after 8:00. then let me see, what did i do that day? somebody paged me, i think. oh, i picked my cousin up again. >> so if we had to contact everyone that you mentioned, you know, you could get the names and addresses, phone numbers. >> sure. >> they could confirm where you were on saturday night? >> reporter: and sure enough, they did. police spoke with javier who corroborated sam's story. >> javier told investigators
that he was with sam, that sam had picked him up at his house in anaheim and driven him to another friend's house in fullerton during the time that we believe cathy was contacted and ultimately murdered. >> reporter: so if you believe sam's alibi, he couldn't have been the thing that interrupted cathy when she was writing that note. >> right. >> reporter: nevertheless, they pressed sam for more details. >> the clothing you were wearing saturday? >> i think it was a guess sweatshirt. >> reporter: sam readily gave those clothes to the police. he let them search his house too. and he willingly gave samples of his hair and blood. but something about sam's behavior the week cathy was missing bothered her family. mary said she'd repeatedly paged sam looking for cathy, but he was slow to respond. he call you back? >> not at first. >> reporter: but eventually he did? >> eventually, yes. >> reporter: and he said what, he hadn't seen her? >> he hadn't seen her. >> reporter: to all appearances, that was true.
and the physical evidence seemed to confirm it. sam's dna was not found anywhere on cathy or her car and his clothes, the ones he gave voluntarily to police, had no dna of cathy's on them. but that behavior of sam's which bothered cathy's family, also bothered police, and they focused on him. however, when investigators took their suspicions to the orange county d.a., the outcome was not what they expected. >> coming up, sam has a new woman in his life who soon discovers his old life. you were a little freaked out by that? >> well, yeah. love. only activia has billions of our live and active probiotics. love. a delicious way to enjoy probiotics every day. with 20 years of devotion to gut health. activia. like no other.
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police had their suspicions about sam lopez's involvement in the murder of his neighbor and former girlfriend, cathy torrez. but there was no physical evidence tying him to the murder. and he had a solid alibi on the night cathy was killed. sam was with his cousin, javier. which is why when police took their case to the d.a.'s office, the d.a. refused to file charges against sam. police pursued other leads too, like a possible connection to the suicide of cathy's boyfriend, albert. did you think that cathy's disappearance had anything to do with albert? >> no. >> reporter: coincidence. >> yeah, just two tragedies happening at the same time. >> reporter: but not connected. >> but not connected, no. >> reporter: even though that
coincidence continued to bother them, police were forced to agree. but that left the investigation with nowhere to go. whoever had killed cathy was still out there walking around. >> yes. still out there. enjoying the sun. >> reporter: breathing the same air you're breathing? >> yes. >> reporter: you think about that a lot? >> i did. especially if it was a beautiful day. >> reporter: those sunny days turned dark. months passed. seasons changed. and still the torrez family was left wondering who had killed cathy. something that never changed was mary -- steadfast in her resolve to get justice for her daughter. early on, a friend gave her some advice. >> she said, "remember, mary, the squeaky wheel gets the oil. don't let anyone tell you different. you keep going." and that's what i did. >> reporter: mary and her family sought the attention of the media.
they marched in rallies, lobbied officials for greater victims' rights, and spoke with then-california governor pete wilson about cathy's murder. they even contributed to reward funds, some of it by selling tamales at the local fair. you were doing just about everything you could think of, weren't you? >> yes. yes. well, you have to. you have to, because you don't have the name or the resources to do it on your own. so then you look, then you knock on a lot of doors, trying to keep it out there. >> reporter: the torrez family says they spent thousands of hours knocking on doors, speaking at events, all in the hope that cathy's case would not lie forgotten in a filing cabinet. and mary did something else too. >> i worked part time for the city. and it just so happened that my desk was right at the door -- the hallway that connected the police department with the city. and so they would see me sitting at my desk when they walked into city hall. >> reporter: so every new police
chief -- >> every. >> reporter: -- would get a meeting with you? >> yes. i would actually go into their office and talk to them and tell them -- see what they could do. >> reporter: you were a pest? >> i was a squeaky wheel. >> reporter: your mom was relentless with the police. >> yes, she was. i went with her a couple times to meet the -- the new chief that would come into the police department. we go in there. you know, "we just want to let you know that we represent cathy torrez, and we have not forgotten, and we just want to make sure that her case is still being worked on." >> reporter: "we have not forgotten and we want to make sure that you don't either." >> right, right. >> reporter: the city of placentia didn't forget. the community learning center was dedicated in cathy's name. the cathy torrez learning center. >> yes. >> reporter: you've got to leave your mark on the world. >> and she did, huh? >> reporter: and a tree was planted in cathy's memory across the street. >> they planted it in a way where from my mom's kitchen, she could see the tree. >> reporter: sam lopez could see
it too. he was still living in the same home police had searched after cathy's murder. a search that had turned up nothing. and sam was also moving on with his life. in may 1994, just months after cathy's murder, sam walked into a local restaurant. >> he walked in with his friend. and i just remember thinking that he was cute. >> reporter: tina montelongo was a hostess then. >> so, i offered him some free food. and then we started talking. >> reporter: she felt the spark right away. >> i did think i would marry him when i first saw him. that was, like, the words that came out of my mouth. "i'm going to marry that guy." >> reporter: you were taken with him right away? >> i was. uh-huh. >> reporter: sam and tina started dating. but in a small town like placentia, it wasn't long before tina heard the whispered rumors. >> i found out that my sister went to school with him and i
asked her what she knew about him, what she thought about him. and that's when she told me that he -- they were -- he was the one that they suspected. >> reporter: in the murder of cathy torrez? >> yes. >> reporter: he hadn't told you that? >> he hadn't told me that. that was in the first couple of weeks that i was dating him. >> reporter: sam emphatically denied any involvement in cathy's murder. but just the idea spooked tina. so she made up a lie. >> i met him and i told him that i was dating somebody else. >> reporter: which was not true? >> which was not true. >> reporter: you were a little freaked out by that? >> well, yeah. >> reporter: but the spark that drew her to sam was too strong, and though tina had only known him a few short weeks, something in her heart said sam was innocent. >> so i gave him a call. and i started dating him again. >> reporter: okay. i mean, you're an attractive woman. i have trouble believing that there were not guys available who weren't already suspects in a murder investigation.
>> i'm sure there probably were. but there -- they didn't have my attention. >> reporter: they dated for a year, and then married. >> i was ready. i was, "this is it. this is who i want to be with. this is who i want to grow old with. this is who i want to have kids with." >> reporter: and they did. a year later came a baby girl. and sam embraced his role as dad. >> he was like mr. mom, you know. he stayed home and took care of the baby while i worked. >> reporter: if sam had anything to do with cathy's murder, he certainly didn't act like it. he stayed put. living with his wife and baby right down the street from cathy's mom, mary. >> she would sit outside and stare at us, and i felt like she was doing it to make me uncomfortable, and probably him, too. but i'm sure she didn't want him to be happy if she thought that he had anything to do with what happened to her daughter. >> reporter: sam say anything about mary?
>> no. no. he would try to tell me to ignore it. >> reporter: i mean, was this like the hatfields and the mccoys? what happened? >> there was no communication, no associations with them, you know. that -- that was basically it. that they became estranged. >> reporter: which made it difficult for tina, who was still married to sam's older brother, armando. police continued to work the case, but the fact was, they had no solid leads. they weren't even close to arresting anyone. but then two years after cathy torrez was murdered, an unexpected meeting put this investigation in the fast lane. an explorer scout with a familiar last name inspires a renewed search for a killer. >> that is a weird convince coincidence. >> we don't believe in coincidences.
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it was 1996. two years had passed since the gruesome murder of cathy torrez in placentia, california. >> i had been to several places, had knocked on many doors. and all i ever wanted was the truth to come out as to what had happened to cathy. >> reporter: the case had gone cold, but its memory still clung to the breeze in this small town. daron wyatt was a patrol officer back then, and one afternoon his shift brought him to this park just across the street from where cathy had grown up. daron was about to bust a drug suspect when the guy started talking. >> he's playing the game of, you know, "i'll tell you whatever
you want to know, just you know, ask the right questions and i'll tell you and then you won't take me to jail." so, you know, just almost as a flippant remark, i tell him, "okay, so tell me who killed cathy torrez." >> reporter: it was a shot in the dark. a tactic he'd picked up at a seminar for cultivating informants. >> and the patrol officer that is next to me starts kind of kicking my foot. and he's got an explorer scout who's riding with him -- a young hispanic female. and i look at her name tag and it was "d. torrez." turned out it was debbie torrez, cathy's youngest sister. >> reporter: who just heard you ask that question. >> correct. >> reporter: you had no idea it was her? >> i had no idea. >> reporter: debbie torrez -- cathy's baby sister -- was now 14 years old. eager, her mom says, to assist police because of everything her family had been through. >> she remembered that when we needed help, people came to help us. so she thought it was her turn to help others. >> reporter: which is why debbie
was in the park that afternoon, and how she heard daron mention cathy's case. that is a weird coincidence. >> we don't believe in coincidences. >> reporter: to daron wyatt, it felt more like fate. and just months later, in january 1997, his lieutenant suggested daron apply to the homicide unit. >> so i ended up putting in for that job and being selected. >> reporter: it wasn't long before he cracked open the doors that housed the homicide files. >> and i open the cabinet and i see the torrez case. and i remembered the incident with debbie from about a year earlier. so i pulled it out and i started reading just on free time, just reading it a little bit. >> reporter: by then, the cathy torrez case had been cold for a good three years. >> and essentially no work had been done on it for at least the last two years. >> reporter: from the beginning, police had suspected cathy's one-time boyfriend sam lopez had something to do with her murder.
but they had nothing connecting him to the crime. no witnesses. no dna. and sam had that solid alibi. tina was still married to sam's brother, armando. the two families intertwined, as cathy's family continued to search for answers. >> and then in april of 1997, i got a phone call from mary bennett. >> reporter: cathy's mom. it would be their first conversation of many. mary told daron how she'd seen reports about a new program in orange county centered around investigating cold cases. cathy's case had specifically been mentioned. >> and mary said, "if they're going to use my daughter's murder as publicity for their program, by all means they're going to work it. and it's your job to make sure that that happens." >> reporter: there were no new murders in placentia in 1997, allowing daron to focus his full attention on this old one. >> and because you have -- you
have mary bennett and the family, who's persistent, who are very well known and very well liked within the community, it did give me a lot of leverage when i went forth and said, "hey look, i need time to concentrate specifically on this case." >> reporter: daron pored through the files and hunted down new leads. and then a tip came in, seemingly out of nowhere. >> so a guy from a repossession company calls the police and says, "hey i repo'd this car earlier today, and there was a folio in the trunk of the car. and as i'm going through the folio, there are articles in there about this murder in placentia from 1994 and there are receipts from sav-on. >> reporter: sav-on. the drugstore chain where cathy was working at the time she was stabbed to death. that had to make everybody sit up straight. >> it did. >> reporter: there was more. the guy whose car had been repossessed had recently been released from state prison and was now in custody for threatening someone with a knife.
>> reporter: and what you wanted to know first was, "where were you on the night cathy torrez disappeared?" >> correct. >> reporter: and where was he? >> he was in state prison. >> reporter: so whatever's going on with this guy, he's not your guy. >> he -- well, he's not personally. but is he related to -- does he know? what's the connection? why is this stuff in the trunk of his car? >> reporter: when you say to him, "why would you have articles about cathy torrez's murder and receipts from sav-on in the trunk of your car," his answer's what? >> "that's all my wife's stuff." he disowns it. he separates himself from it, which now raises a little bit more suspicion. >> reporter: could you tell if he was connected to anyone in the case? >> not initially. i really had to dig a little bit deeper to see what the connection was. >> reporter: daron finally located the convict's wife. >> she was uncooperative at first, which again, now, this is raising suspicions again. ultimately she did come in and talk to us, and her explanation
was that she went to valencia high school with cathy. and then upon closer examination, we were able to see that the receipts from sav-on were from a different sav-on than the one that cathy worked at. and this was basically, like, her keepsake file. >> reporter: she'd saved those articles just because she knew someone who got murdered? >> correct. >> reporter: so this had nothing to do with her husband who was in prison at all? who -- >> absolutely nothing. >> reporter: so you're back to basically no suspects. >> no, we're back to sam.
but at the same time, daron had to admit that sam certainly did not fit anyone's profile of a murder suspect. >> no criminal history. there was no indicators that he was anything other than, you know, a normal 22-year-old kid. >> he didn't sound like a killer. >> no, absolutely not. >> reporter: detectives had interviewed sam on two separate days, first on audiotape when cathy went missing. >> he voluntarily gave head hair samples, he gave a blood sample, he gave fingerprints. and at the end of that, he ultimately said, you know, "whatever i can do, i'll do." >> reporter: but as he read the file, daron learned there were other things sam didn't do. for example, sam lived right down the street, yet cathy's family says he never stopped by during that whole frantic week when they were searching. he did speak extensively with police. >> i don't think anybody thought that sam was telling the truth. >> remember how sam told detectives cathy came to him looking for weed? but -- >> there was absolutely no indication that any of that was true.
>> which called into question sam's story. >> it does. >> reporter: and daron noticed another inconsistency in sam's account of the days right before cathy disappeared. mary, however, says sam was the one calling her home looking for cathy. he called how many times? >> quite a few times looking for her. >> reporter: mary says sam sounded okay at first, until she told him where cathy was. >> i said she was at the hospital and she wasn't back yet. >> reporter: at the hospital, visiting albert, her boyfriend, who had attempted suicide. sam okay with that? fortified. emerge everyday with emergen-c. packed with b vitamins, electrolytes, antioxidants, plus more vitamin c than 10 oranges. why not feel this good every day? emerge and see.
that's why we built the nation's largest gig-speed network along with complete reliability. then went beyond. beyond clumsy dials-in's and pins. to one-touch conference calls. beyond traditional tv. to tv on any device. beyond low-res surveillance video. to crystal clear hd video monitoring from anywhere. gig-fueled apps that exceed expectations. comcast business. beyond fast. homicide cop daron wyatt was deep in the cathy torrez murder case. if her mother mary wasn't giving up, neither would he. >> i knew that it wasn't over yet, that i still had to keep looking for answers.
look -- looking for what i had lost. >> reporter: daron chased some who had attempted suicide. sam okay with that? >> no, he got upset. >> reporter: sam told police he was just worried about cathy, especially after he spoke with her that week. >> she was crying on the phone, i messed up you know, i never tried getting him hurt and all this and i told her just calm down.
cause when you're depressed you do things. >> remember, this interview happened while cathy was still missing. sam seemed to be implying she might have hurt herself or that another boyfriend might be involved. >> i mean, look, she, she's had, i know she's had a lot of problems in the past with boyfriends. >> reporter: then there was the second interview, the day cathy's body was found. detective wyatt studied that tape, too. >> there was one thing that was important that sam didn't display that you would expect to see in a case like this. >> reporter: which is? >> emotion. he showed more emotion over the contents of a coke can. he picked it up when they left the room and reading the coke can and the ingredients and the number of calories. and at one point he puts that down and picks up a baseball hat he had been wearing, sees dirt and brushes it off and starts swearing about the fact that there's dirt on his hat. >> oh [ bleep ]. >> but he never shows any emotion about the fact that this gal has been brutally murdered, no emotion whatsoever. >> reporter: and that's a big red flag? >> huge. >> reporter: daron went deeper into sam and cathy's relationship. >> there were a lot of things that brought them together, they
were in high school, lived across the street. cathy's older sister was married to sam's older brother. >> reporter: they had this long on again/off again relationship in which what, he couldn't let go of her or she couldn't let go of him? >> i think a lot of it was mutual. >> reporter: even after cathy started dating albert and sam had another girlfriend, too, they continued to see each other. and daron found evidence that in sam's mind, his relationship with cathy was far from casual. >> mary gave me a shoe box full of letters that were written between sam and cathy, and the content of these letters showed a very jealous guy. a guy who would get angry any time somebody flirted with cathy. >> reporter: sam didn't try to hide the fact that he was prone to jealousy. >> she knows, every time she mentions some guy's name, i get pissed off, okay?
>> reporter: that led the detective to take a fresh look at those bizarre events the week before cathy disappeared when she came home impaired and then had her tires slashed. >> she never regained full memory of what had happened, but she was able to tell everybody who she had been with that night. >> reporter: the person cathy had been with that night? sam lopez. when police asked sam about that night, he remembered something very specific. >> a hickey. >> on her neck? >> on her -- right here. covered up with her bra. >> you mean way down here on her shoulder? >> right here. right here. >> reporter: sam claimed it was no big deal. >> i didn't want to hit her up, like, tell her, "hey, you know, who were you with last night?" whatever. >> reporter: but that night, police records showed sam received two traffic citations, both while driving cathy's car. one was an open container ticket for drinking alcohol in a
parking lot. the other for failing to stop at a stop sign. the cop who pulled sam over for not stopping said sam flew through the intersection, and when he approached the car, the cop said it looked as if sam and cathy had been arguing. but he did say cathy looked fine. nobody was quite sure what happened after that, except they apparently parted company. sam in his car, cathy in hers. then cathy arrived home, too out of it to realize she'd been driving on slashed tires. tina saw the tires the next day. >> i just kept saying, "who -- what happened to your tires? who slashed your tires?" >> reporter: and she'd say? >> and she'd say she didn't know. she -- she just knew that she had gone out with sam that night. >> reporter: daron wyatt now believed sam drugged cathy, possibly assaulted her, and slashed her tires. the next day, cathy called tina with more details about her strange night with sam. >> he had told her "let's run off, let's get married. let's run off and let's elope." and she told him, "you're joking, this is not --" you know, "what are you talking about, are you serious?" >> reporter: remember, cathy was seeing another guy. albert.
who, only days later tried to kill himself. tina says cathy thought about sam's proposal all that week. ultimately, cathy decided, says tina, that she was so broken up about albert she was going to tell sam the answer was no. >> she's crying, and then she said, "i'm going to tell him this saturday that i'm not gonna take off with him, that i will not elope." that was wednesday. and then saturday she never came home. >> reporter: sam's admitted jealousy, cathy's doting on albert, a rejected proposal. all of it seemed to add up to motive. but motives don't prove murder. there was still no physical evidence tying sam to the crime. all the blood on the car had been tested, and it was all
cathy's. but then, while combing the case file, detective daron wyatt learned something shocking. there were blood and hair samples that had never been sent to the crime lab. and when those samples were analyzed, they pointed to a whole new suspect. new dna and a new man in the hot seat. >> he sat there and put his fist in front of his mouth to keep himself from talking. who do you think takes more pride in how they craft their orange juice? the corporate executives of coke and pepsi, or the farmers of florida's natural? only florida's natural is always made in florida by florida farmers. great taste. naturally. kleenex was made for this. strong... with a soft, soothing touch. kleenex soothing lotion. america's softest lotion tissue.
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solely as an alibi witness who was lying to cover for sam. >> reporter: that's why, as detective daron wyatt now discovered, even though investigators in 1994 took blood, hair and fingerprint samples from javier, they'd never had those tested. >> they had sent all of the evidence related to sam lopez to the crime lab, his fingerprints, his hair, his blood. but they hadn't sent anything related to javier lopez to the crime lab. >> reporter: daron sent javier's samples, now three years old, to the crime lab. two months later, the phone rang. >> they had positively identified a fingerprint on the trunk of cathy's car, left there by somebody closing the lid of the trunk. >> reporter: javier's print was on the trunk of cathy's car? >> yes. >> reporter: weeks later, another call from the lab. a bloodstain on the car had tested positive for both cathy's dna and javier's.
and the detective found there was something else -- another major piece of evidence investigators had initially overlooked. >> when you look at the crime scene photos in the trunk of the car, something jumped out at me. and it just -- it hit me like i got punched in the face, was there was arterial spurt on the sidewall of the trunk panel. >> reporter: meaning only one thing -- cathy was still alive when she was placed in the trunk of the car. so, if javier put her there, he could be charged with murder. why not grab javier up that day and say, "okay, your dna and fingerprints were at the scene. we didn't know that until just now. you're going away for murder unless you start talking"? >> well, let's say that we did that and we bring him in and he says, well, yes, my fingerprint was there because i helped her push her car out of the street a week before. or when i was helping her change a tire. i cut my finger and i bled on it. >> reporter: so instead of approaching javier, daron wyatt spent nearly five months carefully watching him and sam. he learned the two cousins were unusually close. >> sam lived in a one-bedroom
little bungalow with his wife and his baby at the time, yet javier was there all the time, sleeping in the same -- essentially the same room. >> reporter: eventually, daron wyatt felt he had enough new information to get a search warrant. >> there was a loud pounding on our door. >> reporter: tina montelongo remembers it clearly. >> when i opened the door, there was about five police officers there. the one in the middle was wyatt. he put us against the wall and patted us down. >> reporter: what was sam's demeanor while all that was happening? >> he was calm, you know. he really was. i was freaking out. >> reporter: he wasn't worried? >> no. no. >> reporter: maybe he had no reason to be. police didn't find anything in the house linking sam to cathy's murder. they even sprayed his truck with luminol looking for signs of blood. >> we took the seats out, we did everything we could. and there was nothing.
>> reporter: police briefly detained sam, but he was back home by morning. now daron wyatt focused on javier. >> and we really approached it very low key. "we think that you can really provide some great information for us. would you mind coming down with us and talking." >> reporter: they brought him down to the station and listened patiently as he distanced himself from cathy torrez. >> he'd never been shopping with her, never changed a tire on her car, never carried groceries. we went through the whole litany of things that -- >> reporter: and he's all, "oh no, no, that's --" >> would -- >> reporter: that's all true. "i'm a million miles away from her"? >> right, right separated himself. >> reporter: but in so doing, javier ruled out any innocent explanation for finding his dna and fingerprint on her car. so when police told him that's exactly what they had found -- >> it was like vapor lock. and then all of a sudden he said, "well, you know, this one time i was at the video store, and i saw sam and cathy there together.
and i went and i sat in cathy's car and sat in the backseat and waited for them. and they came out and then i left." and that was really his only contact that he could give us with cathy's car. >> reporter: but he doesn't fold up like a house of cards and say, "all right, fine. you got me." >> you're right. but josh, you've watched probably thousands of these interviews. and sometimes what people don't say is just as important as what they do say. >> reporter: what javier either would not or could not say were these words -- "i did not kill cathy torrez." >> he says, "i don't know who did." "that's not what i asked, javier. did you kill cathy torrez?" "i don't know who did." and we play that several times to where he'd finally say, "i didn't do it." "you didn't do what, javier?" "i didn't do what you say i did." >> reporter: can't say the words, "killed cathy"? >> correct. then it moved to, "did you put cathy's body in the trunk of the car?"
"i don't know who did." finally he sat there and he put his fist in front of his mouth to keep himself from talking. >> reporter: but javier had already managed to talk his way into an arrest for murder. nearly four years after cathy's death, he was booked into the orange county jail. cathy's family was stunned when they heard the news. tina included. remember, she was still married to armando, who was sam's brother and javier's cousin. >> yes. that -- that was a shock. that was a shock. >> reporter: you didn't see that coming and police didn't tell you? >> right. that was part of their
investigation, and we had no knowledge of that. >> reporter: but they were relieved. at last the case was moving forward. daron wyatt was confident he had enough evidence to prove javier lopez had killed cathy torrez. but once again, the orange county district attorney did not agree. the d.a. decided not to charge? >> correct. >> reporter: and so javier's set free? >> javier walks. a detective who refuses to quit -- >> i said i have a cold case i need you to take a look at. >> reporter: now has a reason not to. >> my first daughter was born. and i remember going to mary shortly after that looking in the eye and saying "i know. i know now how you feel." detective daron wyatt never believed javier lopez acted they adapt at the waist, legs and bottom for all the freedom to move their way pampers show your gut some love. only activia has billions of our live and active probiotics. a delicious way to enjoy probiotics every day. with 20 years of devotion to gut health. activia. like no other.
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alone. even when he arrested javier in 1997 for the murder of cathy torrez, he thought javier's real role was helping the prime suspect -- javier's cousin sam lopez. tina montelongo, sam's then-wife and javier's friend, wasn't buying it. can you conceive of javier going through with a murder or being involved in it because of his loyalty to sam? >> no. i don't see that. if sam did it, would xavi help him just because they're close family? i don't see that. >> reporter: neither did the d.a. who decided there was not enough evidence to file charges. how do you tell mary bennett, "we had javier, but we had to let him go"? >> it was extremely difficult. there was a lot of crying on both sides. >> reporter: daron knew exactly what releasing javier really meant.
what walks out of the jail along with javier is any leverage you had to get him to name sam? >> yes, absolutely. >> reporter: and now you really are back to square one? >> yes. >> reporter: is that the end? >> to some people. >> reporter: but not to him. and not to mary. you put a lot of faith in daron. >> i put a lot of faith in god. daron was his tool. >> reporter: but for the time being, it seemed daron's hands were tied. after all, the case had been rejected by the d.a.'s office twice before. this case getting a lot of baggage over the years? >> yeah, it did. >> reporter: and so if you go ahead with it, you're not only going ahead with the case, you're also kind of insulting the d.a.? >> yeah. >> reporter: years went by. the cathy torrez case grew colder by the day. and so did the marriage between
cathy's sister tina and sam's brother armando. you and armando got divorced. >> yes. >> reporter: this have something to do with that? >> definitely it was all intermixed. >> reporter: daron wyatt was promoted to detective sergeant and his caseload shifted to other types of crime. but he never forgot his promise to mary. in part because of a milestone in his own life. >> my first daughter was born. and i remember going to mary shortly after that and looking her in the eye and saying, "i know -- i know now how you feel. i know it. i can feel it myself. i'm a dad now. you haven't given up. i won't give up." >> reporter: in 2003, nine years after the murder, daron once again approached a friend in the d.a.'s office. >> i said, "i've got a cold case that i need you to take a look at." and he physically stops walking and he says, "if it's the case i'm thinking about, i'm not going to touch it." >> reporter: but daron was persistent. eventually he persuaded his friend to take cathy's case back to the d.a.'s homicide unit.
the same unit that had rejected it twice before. this time though, something different happened. a prosecutor unfamiliar with the case agreed to take a fresh look. his name is matt murphy, and he noticed one thing right away. >> the first thing you see when you look at the file is a big rejection from really good lawyers who reviewed it individually and as a group. >> reporter: which means they tried very hard to make a case and they couldn't do it? >> they tried very hard. that's right. and they figured, based on their review, that they couldn't do it. >> reporter: and some of the reasons were apparent from the get-go -- >> when you look at it on its face, this case is a real tough one. >> reporter: for one thing, there was so much evidence they didn't have against sam. >> there was no murder weapon here. we had no witness. we had no confession. we had no dna. so you can look at it that way, in a conventional review.
and yeah, it looked really tough. >> reporter: but what really made this case a prosecutor's nightmare was the fact that all the physical evidence pointed away from the man they thought was the killer. any defense attorney would ask, if police found javier's dna and fingerprint, why would they charge sam? were you surprised you didn't find sam's dna there? >> yes. >> reporter: he thought newer, better tests might find sam's dna, but it was too late for that. cathy's family had sold the car. the case against sam would have to be entirely circumstantial. murphy felt the key to that was somewhere in those interviews sam gave to police. but here, too, there was a problem. >> when you look at the interview, everything that sam lopez said seemed logical at the time. and everything seemed to make sense. >> reporter: picking apart those interviews would be critical. >> this is one of those cases where you have to look at the details.
and it's truly one that you have to look at each detail in light of every other detail. >> reporter: and when you rearrange the letters of "little tiny details," it spells "larry montgomery." >> absolutely. >> reporter: larry montgomery. or as he's known here at "dateline," the evidence whisperer. she didn't ask you to marry her? >> no. >> a human lie detector goes to work. >> the guilty person knows a lot. all that information is in his brain and it can slip out. impoh. with centrum® micronutrients. restoring your awesome... daily. feed your cells with centrum® micronutrients today. feed your cells with mucinex cold & flu all-in-one. fights... ...sore throat, fever, cough, sinus pressure, chest congestion, headache, nasal congestion, body pain... all in one. did you really need the caps lock? get tough on cold and flu symptoms.
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that the basement can be where everyone wants to be. [ cheers and groans ] that feeling safe at home should be a given. and that the best nights out, can be nights in. that's how we reimagined wifi and created xfinity xfi, internet that brings your home together. this is beyond wifi. this is xfi. [ joyful laughter ] simple. easy. awesome. xfinity the future of awesome. prosecutor matt murphy thought daron wyatt's investigation of cathy torrez's murder was compelling. but he knew that making the case against sam lopez wouldn't be easy. the d.a.'s office had declined to try it twice before.
so murphy called for help from a detective whose legendary skill with cold cases has earned him a reverential nickname. >> larry montgomery is the real deal. i mean, the guy is -- the evidence whisperer. another nickname for him is st. larry. >> reporter: larry sees things other people don't see? >> larry sees things that many people don't see, yeah. and he looks at it from a different perspective. >> reporter: they both felt the key to the case lay in sam lopez's own words, his taped interviews with the original detectives. and they thought the perfect man to listen to those interviews was the evidence whisperer. guilty people have tells, just like in a poker game? >> absolutely. they don't have that innocent mindset, and they -- they have other fears. they fear being caught. they can't get their stories straight because there's too many details. >> reporter: montgomery spent months carefully listening and re-listening, watching and re-watching, hours of sam's interviews. looking for the tells. >> how long have you guys been dating?
>> it's -- it's an off-and-on thing. on-and-off thing. >> okay. >> reporter: tell number one, how sam talked about his relationship with cathy. >> see, i was going out with somebody. and then she would call me up. and we would just, like -- calling each other, going out to eat, places like that. nothing serious at the time. >> sam definitely was trying to limit his connection with cathy, give the impression that it's not that big of a deal. >> reporter: remember cathy's sister tina had told detectives sam had proposed to cathy just days before she disappeared. but when police asked sam about that, he denied it. >> you didn't ask her to marry you, then? >> no. >> reporter: later he changed his story but seemed to say getting married was cathy's idea. >> a lot of people hit me up already. they said that -- that -- that we were supposed to elope, okay? this is what she -- okay, but look. she had a crazy idea to go to mexico, okay? just the two of us. >> reporter: then there was
sam's claim that cathy never tried to contact him after she disappeared. >> i thought she was going to page me on friday. she goes somewhere, and she never paged me on friday. >> we know that cathy's mom paged him 20 or 25 times in a matter of at least a couple of days, trying to get him to contact her because he's so close to cathy and she's missing. >> reporter: montgomery noted a key detail about those pages. mary's home phone and cathy's home phone are the same number. >> they're the same numbers. >> reporter: so, seeing that number on his pager, how did sam know it wasn't cathy? >> if he knew she was alive, he would know he got 20 or 25 pages from cathy, or at least think that. if he's guilty and he killed cathy, he knows those 20 or 25 pages were not from cathy. >> reporter: that was tell number two. then montgomery noticed how, in his second interview, sam referred to cathy's murder. >> you know?
but then this happened and -- shoot. >> he doesn't use the word "murder," doesn't say anything like that. it's like, "this happened," as if it's small. it's not that big of a deal, it's not horrendous. he doesn't want it to be horrendous because he did it. >> reporter: tell number three. and then larry caught something else in the interview sam did before cathy's body was found. listen carefully. >> so you went out with her the saturday before the thursday? >> right. >> okay on, and where did you go? >> in other words a week before she was -- she disappeared. >> reporter: did you hear that? >> a week before she was -- she disappeared. >> reporter: "before she was..." what? dead? murdered? either way, larry thought sam knew more than he was telling. >> the guilty person knows a
lot. cannot forget all that he knows. so when he's talking, all that information is in -- is in his brain, and it can slip out. >> reporter: another reason to think sam knew much more than he was saying? in his second interview after cathy's body was found, police spoke with sam for 90 minutes before he asked them a single question. and when he finally did -- >> so did you -- do you guys know how she was killed? >> uh, yeah, we do. >> reporter: larry noticed a telling statement. >> thought you were never going to ask. >> well, i didn't want --'cause i don't want memories to come back, you know? >> well, that's an interesting statement, "i don't want memories to come back." what memories does he have that he doesn't want to remember? if he's innocent, he has memories of cathy, good times, what they did. >> reporter: people would want those memories to come back. >> yeah. if he had a memory that he killed her, that certainly is a memory he doesn't want to relive. >> reporter: after listening to the interviews time and again, the evidence whisperer had no doubt sam killed cathy. but could the team prove it beyond a reasonable doubt? >> ultimately in cold case murders, time becomes one of our friends, because technology changes.
>> reporter: at the time of the murder, dna tests could only be done on big samples like blood spatter. but in the years since, analysis became possible for touch-dna, the microscopic calling cards the microscopic calling card many of us leave behind just by putting our hands on something. if sam and javier did place cathy's body in the car's trunk, maybe, thought larry, there would be touch-dna on her clothes. >> search for dna in the areas that might be grabbed. especially areas that might be grabbed that don't have blood on them, from cathy. >> so you looked, what, on the ankles and under her arms? >> ankles, arms, i think under the legs. sometimes, you know, in the -- >> reporter: daron wyatt send out the evidence for touch dna. you optimistic? or are you thinking, shot in the dark?
>> no, i was not optimistic. i was not optimistic. >> reporter: because what? >> because on this particular case, it seemed like for the beginning phases, everything that could go wrong pretty much went wrong. >> reporter: but he also knew he was working with a cop on a mission. >> daron wyatt was not going to quit until i filed this case or i died. or he died, i guess. daron was absolutely dedicated to this. >> reporter: the truth was, if murphy declined the case a third time, the cathy torrez file would almost certainly go from cold to dead. what would he decide? no one understood the stakes better than cathy's mom. >> daron had told me that we were going to meet with the d.a. my interpretation of it was that he was going to tell me that there was nothing they could do. >> reporter: a key piece of evidence arrives, better late than never. how long had they known that? >> a couple of months at least. >> reporter: and they forgot to call? but is it the smoking gun? and then what's happening is the weakening of enamel.
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it was an early morning in 2007, 13 years after cathy torrez had breathed her last. >> i was having coffee at a mcdonald's before work and i was reading my bible. it was a little bit after 7:00 when i saw that i had a call from him. >> reporter: from daron wyatt. mary knew he was scheduled to meet with the d.a. >> my first thought was he was going to tell me that the meeting was canceled. again. >> reporter: but that was not the message. not at all. >> he said, "i'm standing here in front of sam's house and we are making an arrest right now." >> reporter: they're making an arrest. >> yes. >> and you thought? >> and i -- got up and i think i screamed there at the mcdonald's. >> reporter: years before, daron wyatt had made a promise. now, he felt, he was keeping it. that had to feel pretty good. >> yeah, there were tears of joy this time. >> reporter: sam lopez was
arrested and charged with cathy's murder, but he wasn't alone. just as prosecutors now believed he wasn't alone the night he stabbed cathy to death. sam's cousin javier was also arrested and charged with murder. police also arrested sam's older brother, armando, who was once married to cathy's sister tina, and had helped search for cathy. >> it's just a tragic loss. it hurts. everybody loved cathy. >> reporter: armando was charged with being an accessory after the fact for allegedly helping cover up the murder. >> we believe that he was telling people who had information that could help convict sam not to cooperate with the police. >> reporter: cathy's sister had to ponder what that might mean about her former husband. >> betrayal of the worst kind. >> reporter: betrayal of her, betrayal of you. >> exactly, everything. >> reporter: your family. >> my family. trust, betrayal, everything's broken beyond belief.
>> reporter: sam and his wife had also separated by this point. she was at work when her sister called her and told her police had once again come for sam. >> what'd you think when you heard sam was arrested? >> the same that i always had. like, here we go again. >> nothing to it, and he'll be out soon. >> yeah. >> reporter: after all, they'd detained sam once before and had to release him. but as daron wyatt now explained to sam lopez, this time was different. >> "i've told you before that we wouldn't give up until -- until we were able to bring resolution to this case, and that's where we're at now." >> reporter: but just when it seemed the case was buttoned up, daron got a surprising call. remember the request for touch-dna daron had submitted months earlier? the crime lab finally called back. and the crime lab says what? >> "hey, did we tell you that we found javier's dna on cathy's body?"
"what?" "yeah, we found javier's profile on her sock, on the back of her knee, and under her right armpit." >> reporter:did we tell you?" no, we didn't tell you. how long had they known that? >> a couple of months, at least. >> and they, what, forgot to call? >> i think the examiner who had been doing it was waiting for additional results and didn't realize that she hadn't notified us. >> so the idea of touch-dna paid off? >> it did. >> reporter: but not quite the way they had all hoped. unbelievable that you would get touch-dna evidence back that long after the fact. >> right. >> but bad news, it doesn't have sam lopez's name on it. >> right. that's right. >> reporter: so the strongest physical evidence was still against javier. but it was sam who had the motive, and he was the first one going on trial, even without a trace of his dna anywhere. it had taken 13 years to arrest sam lopez, it would take another eight to bring him to trial. and just months before that
trial began, matt murphy learned that sam had a new defense attorney. someone matt knew very well. >> he so is good. and i would be lying if i said my heart was not in my throat. >> reporter: sam's defense attorney lew rosenblum was the former assistant d.a. who supervised the homicide unit. in fact, he was the original prosecutor who back in 1994 didn't think there was enough evidence to charge sam. not only that, lew was the man who brought matt into the homicide unit. >> lew took me under his wing and trained me how to do homicides. >> what's it like to go up against your mentor? >> well, it's terrifying to go up against your mentor. >> reporter: neither one of them had ever lost a murder case. but someone's winning streak was about to end. february 10th, 2015.
20 years after cathy torrez's murder, sam lopez went on trial. >> at the end of this case you are going to hold that man accountable for exactly what he did. >> reporter: the very first witness matt murphy put on the stand was cathy's mom, mary. it seemed a safe way to start. >> there is a cardinal rule that you don't ever do a hard cross-examination on a mother. >> reporter: but matt's mentor broke that rule. >> he really pressed her on some of the details. >> and scored some points. >> scored big points. i mean, scored big-time points. >> reporter: mary initially told the jury sam only responded to one of her pages, but under cross-examination mary revealed he'd actually returned three pages. >> they were trying to paint a picture of sam that he did absolutely nothing, and that is not true. >> it's one of the only cases i've done in my career where i realized, "he understands this case as well as i do."
folder, i started my prayer. the lord is my shepherd, i shall not want. matt murphy was facing the biggest battle of his career against his former mentor, famed prosecutor turned defense attorney lew rosenblum. >> but you've only heard one side. >> reporter: the same man who back in 1994 felt there was not enough evidence to charge sam lopez was now defending him. it was an epic showdown in a packed courtroom. >> two of the best attorneys in the nation battling one another over a high-stakes murder with absolutely zero physical
evidence on the defendant who's being tried. and it was teacher versus student. >> reporter: sam had been a suspect for 20 years. and during that entire time, his attorney said, police had it all wrong. >> the detectives made up their mind about who did this murder within hours. "we had a bad feeling about you," they said. "we're gonna prove it." and they spent the next 21 years, over and over, trying. >> reporter: the defense argued sam's behavior didn't prove anything. not only was sam in touch with cathy's family the week she disappeared, he also participated in the search, putting up a flyer at his girlfriend's store. and that business about him not showing any emotion in his interview with police? >> it is very easy to sit back and say, "he should have done that. he should answer this way. look, he's stretching. he's yawning. he's reading a coke can. obviously he's a sociopath." where is the evidence? >> reporter: step back from
those supposed tells, the defense said, and you'd see the man sitting in that chair was not lying to cover up a murder. >> he voluntarily gives hair, blood, prints, shoes, clothes, everything they want, not a man who's hiding. that's a man who wants to prove his innocence. >> reporter: and the defense said after 14 years of tests, not a single forensic link -- not his fingerprints, not his dna -- had ever been found tying sam to cathy's brutal murder. >> everything that they expected to find of my client -- everything -- none of it was there. why? because they're wrong. >> reporter: the fingerprint and dna at the crime scene made it obvious. the wrong man was on trial. >> javier lopez is all over this. prints, dna, because he was the one that did it, not my client. >> reporter: but prosecutor matt murphy argued that javier's dna and fingerprint were really
evidence against sam. remember, from the beginning, javier had been sam's alibi. >> he paged me, saying, "you know what, i need a ride." >> reporter: the prosecutor argued that if they were together and javier's dna put him at scene of the crime, then sam had to be there too. >> his alibi is at the murder scene. and for sam lopez, i think that's just devastating evidence. >> reporter: and he told the jury it was the first of many instances where the most powerful evidence of guilt came from sam's own words. >> it's sam's actions and it's sam's statements. >> reporter: so he gave you the case against him. >> the best evidence that we have in this case, and that we had, was sam lopez himself. >> reporter: sam was the one who told police he had a jealous streak. >> every time she mentions some guy's name, i get pissed off, okay? >> reporter: cathy was seeing another guy -- albert. the prosecution said sam's jealousy was triggered the night he took cathy out and saw that
hickey. >> what effect is that going to have on a guy who gets "pissed," his own word, "pissed," if she even mentions another guy? what is he gonna do when he sees a hickey? >> reporter: what he did, matt said, was slash cathy's tires. >> obviously somebody had -- would have to be very angry at her to slash her tires. if those tires were slashed, ladies and gentlemen, there's only one suspect. there's only person that did it. >> reporter: murphy said sam's anger continued to build as cathy's attention turned to albert -- the same week when sam asked her to elope. a proposal she told her sister tina she was going to reject on saturday -- the day she was killed. >> so now it's not just a hickey. it's a denial of a proposal, and it's all because of another guy. >> reporter: the result, the prosecutor said, was an attack so savage -- cathy stabbed more than 70 times -- that it could only be the work of a jealous lover.
>> every one of those cuts meant something. every one of those stab wounds meant something. >> reporter: and the finishing blow -- >> she was alive, and sam lopez cut her throat. it's as cold-blooded as you can possibly get. >> reporter: the 21st anniversary of cathy's murder fell during the middle of trial. a day that reminded cathy's family once again of all they had lost. what'd your family do that day? >> we went to the cemetery. as we go every year in february. we take her red roses that she wanted for valentine's day that year. >> reporter: for 21 years the torrez family had demanded answers. two days after deliberations began, the jury reached a verdict. >> i couldn't breathe. i felt just tightness inside. and when the clerk took the
folder, i started my prayer. "the lord is my shepherd. i shall not want." >> we the jury find the defendant, samuel agustin lopez, guilty of murder in the first degree. >> once i heard that, then i just -- all i remember is that i held my hands up to my chin like this and i just thanked god. >> reporter: daron wyatt was watching mary in that moment. >> this was everything to her. and i wanted to look in her eyes when they came back and see that she knew that i fulfilled my promise. >> reporter: for sam's ex-wife, the news was devastating. >> i cried. >> reporter: for your daughter? for sam? >> for both. >> reporter: doesn't sound like it shook your faith at all in him. >> it didn't. i still don't believe that he did it. >> reporter: after the verdict,
people in placentia strung little white hearts on the tree that was planted in cathy's memory. did she leave the mark on the world that she always wanted to leave? >> yeah, she did. we have letters of coworkers, of students she worked with. >> reporter: people you didn't even know. >> people we didn't even know that were able to come back and tell my mom or tell one of us, you know, "we miss her at sav-on. she was always smiling. she'd always help us." so what they did to her, all those stab wounds that she got, multiply those and those are her marks. >> reporter: for 21 years sam denied he inflicted those stab wounds, denied he killed cathy. but at his sentencing sam did something that was unexpected. >> i would like to apologize to the torrez family and to everyone for all of the harm and grief that i have caused them. this was a horrible act that
never should have happened. it is entirely my fault. i take full responsibility. >> reporter: sam lopez was sentenced to 26 years to life in prison. javier pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and being an accessory after the fact. he served eight years and is now out of prison. sam's brother armando pleaded guilty to december sueding a witness and was sentenced to one year probation. and mary bennett is still facing the rest of her life without cathy. >> in 1994, i was given a sentence, and there was no parole from it. to live my life without ever seeing cathy again, without ever seeing her beautiful smile or having her come running in through the door and saying, "what's for dinner?" and there's no -- i will never have any kind of parole from that. that is my life sentence.
>> reporter: she's serving it one night at a time, because the wee small hours of the morning still call to mary bennett, reading the bible and waiting for dawn, while the whole wide world is fast asleep. i'm craig melvin. and this is "dateline." i learned that he was arrested. i was shocked. i was just so confused. i didn't think it was real. >> in the rarefied world of the ivy league, he was the package. star student, gifted athlete, wildly popular. >> he is one of the nicest guys ever.