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tv   Dateline NBC  NBC  February 19, 2017 7:00pm-8:01pm EST

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is >> it was a small new year's eve party. we took off and then shortly thereafter. we saw the police car. my gut was telling my feet to run back to that house. this can't be happening. >> reporter: when the party hostess, had seemed fine all night. then - ufcs. >> my wife just shot herself in the head, please help me, please >> reporter: her death was rulet but not everyone agreed. >> i was always afraid he was march. made mark his feet. always. some jaw dropping knockouts >> reporter: did a fight that s
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worse? tonight the first strawweight or a troubled marriage? resumesm head isn't where she could do ir >> oh bull -- za >> it is not. >> bull -- win in >> reporter: suicide or murder?n >> i just knew that my whole world is -- is never gonna be o the same again, ever. score thie here's keith morrison with but "after the party." >> reporter: what is so optimistic as a party on new marshman of anticipation, as the clean the slate midnight brings? prelims m party. >> just family and friends. >> reporter: disappointment is desired are messy all too soon.
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>> reporter: still, we celebrate sorrows. on december 31, 2011, an hour north of denver in west evans, colorado. ashley and tom fallis, surrounded by friends and family danced to the music that brought them together -- their wedding song. >> they decided to get up and dance in the middle of their living room. and -- >> reporter: everybody watching. >> with everyone watching. i don't -- >> reporter: kinda romantic. >> i think i said, "oh, this is sweet." >> reporter: it was their party, ashley's and tom's. she'd invited her co-workers like andrea. >> it was casual. but it she verbally told everyone at work like, "you should come." >> reporter: they worked together at a rehabilitation hospital where ashley was a respiratory therapist. >> she was crazy, nice. [ laughter ] >> reporter: crazy. >> just spunky.
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yeah, just full of energy. she was just -- she was a happy person. laughed a lot and joked. >> reporter: their friendship was new. andrea didn't know a lot about ashley but had listened to her chatter about jobs and marriages and her three kids, the youngest of whom was born with a dangerous condition called hydrocephalus which causes life threatening fluid buildup in the brain. >> she talked about it a lot. >> reporter: did she? >> yeah. but i didn't get the impression that she felt burdened by it, by any means. like, i felt like she -- i mean, that was the cards that she was dealt. >> reporter: well, in fact, she embraced the challenge, said ashley's mom jenna, became a public advocate. >> this is our son, and he is the face of hydrocephalus. >> she went to washington, d.c. in the fall of 2011 to speak before congress for funding for hydrocephalus. so she had a full plate. >> reporter: so did tom, for that matter. >> i like tom. he was pretty good guy, very intelligent. >> reporter: jeff rodriguez was tom's boss at the weld county jail.
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they were corrections officers. >> he was a good employee. he had a son that was sick, so he did miss more work than what most fellow officers liked. >> reporter: stressful, draining thing, caring for a sick child. so maybe their new years eve party was a way to hope for better times and take a break, too. ashley's adopted dad, joel, was at the party. >> there was dancing goin' on and people were havin' a good time. >> reporter: and ashley seemed to be having a fine time, said andrea. she and tom seemed to be getting along fine? >> they seemed to be getting along fine. >> reporter: that's when ashley and andrea went off into the kitchen had a little party of their own. what were you drinking? >> jungle juice and jell-o shots. >> reporter: i've heard of jell-o shots. but what's jungle juice? >> just juice of whatever kind i -- and then vodka and everclear, whatever kind of hard alcohol. >> reporter: everclear? >> yeah. >> reporter: and vodka? [ laughter ] >> yeah. >> reporter: oh, my. >> yeah. i was havin' a good time.
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i intended to have a good time. >> reporter: there was one unusual thing, though, said andrea. ashley had just gone through something kind of awful. >> she found out that she had a miscarriage that day. i said, "oh, i'm sorry. like, are you okay?" and, "oh, yeah, it's fine." >> reporter: did that strike you as odd? >> no. i didn't think that it was odd. >> reporter: was she unhappy about the miscarriage? >> my impression of it is she already has her beautiful family it seemed like her life was already complete. so i don't think that she was devastated that she had found out that she had a miscarriage. >> reporter: no tears, andrea said, just a quick, casual, mention and then the conversation moved on. went on to talk about other things. >> went on to talk about other things. probably went and got another -- [ laughter ] >> reporter: jell-o shot. >> jell-o shot. [ laughter ] >> reporter: midnight arrived. there were as there always are, kisses and smiles and toasts. by 12:30, the party was over. >> i gave her a hug. told her, "bye." we talked about future plans. >> reporter: how did she seem?
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>> happy. >> reporter: but how quickly the year's clean slate darkened. as an uncle prepared to leave, ashley asked him for a bit of his marijuana to smoke later she said. tom, the sheriff's department employee, was furious, and reminded ashley's family that her employer required regular drug tests. was it the alcohol that amped up the family screaming match? whatever. ashley's parents had their own recollections. >> he walks by me. and he says that he hated us all and wished we would all bleeping die. and he went into the bedroom and slammed the door. >> ashley came out of the bathroom and was just kind of, like, "what's goin' on?" and, we're, like "we're gonna leave." >> and then she's like, "hey, i'm havin' a super bowl party in a couple weeks, you know? don't forget about that." >> reporter: but ashley's parents were rattled. they drove away then pulled off to the side of the road to talk.
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ashley's mom sent a text to tom. >> i'm like, you know, "hey, there's kids in the house. calm down. >> reporter: which arrived as their young granddaughter was involved in quite another discussion with 911. >> can you go open the door and let the officers in? [ screaming and crying ] >> it's open, it's open. >> reporter: the new year was less than an hour old and off to a very bad start. when we return -- >> chaos. it was shocking. >> reporter: a frantic race to save a life. what happened in that house? >> i just knew my whole world is -- is never gonna be the same again, ever. i wanted to know who i am and where i came from. i did my ancestrydna and i couldn't wait to get my pie chart. the most shocking result was that i'm 26% native american. i had no idea. just to know this is what i'm made of,
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>> reporter: 2012 was not even an hour old. >> my wife just shot herself in the head, please help me, please help me! >> reporter: the man on the phone was tom fallis, begging for help, and willing his wife to live. >> no! >> sir? >> you're staying here! >> sir? >> you're staying here! >> reporter: tom told the dispatcher 'she shot herself, then he put the phone down.. he was holding his hand to her head trying in vain to stop the bleeding. so he had his 9-year-old daughter pick up the phone. >> honey are you there? >> yes. >> okay can you go open the door and let the officers in?
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>> yes. >> okay? >> mommy got shot. dispatcher: okay, okay we're going to help her, i need you to open the door. >> reporter: brian spencer was a weld county sheriff's deputy back then. he arrived within minutes to discover that the local police, the evans police had beat him there. >> i believe there was three there ahead of me. and then there was more sirens, lights. you could hear 'em coming. >> that's a pretty fast response. >> very fast. >> reporter: and this bit of news was going around fast, too. >> this was a sheriff's employee, a jail employee. >> reporter: not that that should matter. the effort then was, save ashley fallis' life. this was recorded by a police body camera, shows the paramedics arriving. >> chaotic? >> the scene? very. frantic. the officers had located m -- ashley fallis somewhere in the home. >> the local police took charge. they asked brian spencer to watch the front of the property. and that's when, from his post on the front porch, he saw tom. that's him in the background in
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the white t-shirt. >> he was -- pacing around in the front yard and front sidewalk area. frantic, screaming. >> screaming what? do you remember? >> i heard him say, "she's dead--" a lot of mumbled stuff. he would -- put his hands up over his face, and screaming, and crying. >> reporter: by this time, ashley's parents had pulled off the road home to talk and worry about the fight that ended the party. when they heard the sirens, saw them flash by, headed that way. something automatically felt and i whipped a u-turn. >> he didn't even have the car stopped and i was out running to the house. >> were you able to go and see ashley? >> no. i -- i -- i could hear what was going on. i had all three kids and they were just crying and crying and screaming. and i'm crying. >> it was just crazy. it was like a nightmare. i can see blood splatter on the
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wall, the master bedroom wall. >> what was it like? >> chaos. it was shocking. >> did you understand it was your daughter? >> yes. i do recall just being hysterically upset and crying. and thinking that, this can't be happening to my daughter. this can't be happening to us. but, yet, it was. >> reporter: inside the master bedroom, ashley was alive, but the wounds to her head were catastrophic. the police body camera shows officers kneeling on the floor trying to stabilize her condition. >> alright grab that >> paramedics went in. and they made a decision to do what's -- we call a load and go, which means they're not going to spend any time doing life support stuff >> get her on the cot and get her out and go >> reporter: ashley's mom, jenna, huddled with her grandchildren in a neighboring bedroom, listened to it all through a closed door. >> is there any way to describe what it was -- what's it -- what it's like for a mother to be in
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that situation? >> no. your brain does funny things. i just knew that my whole world is -- is never gonna be the same again, ever. >> reporter: outside, brian spencer watched tom pacing back and forth. crying, talking to himself. >> i notice he's wearing a white t-shirt. and he's covered i believe it was on his left side in a large amount of blood. >> reporter: it was odd, brian thought, that evans police officers didn't take tom's clothes or bag his hands for gun shot residue. >> he still had evidence on him. and he needed to be preserved. he needed to be controlled. >> he needed to be processed. >> and clothing removed, everything. >> reporter: but that's not what happened. not at all. and soon after ashley was rushed off to the e.r., tom got into the back of a squad car and was driven away. but surprisingly, it would not be to the hospital. coming up, tom tells his story. >> i heard her gun cock. and i looked out, i was like,
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what are you doing? >> reporter: but police don't seem to believe it. >> that wound on the back of her head isn't where she could do it herself, tom, it is not. >> oh [ bleep ]! >> it is not >> [ bleep ]! >> reporter: when dateline continues. did you make that? i did... n't. hey, come look what lisa made. wow. you grilled that chicken? yup! i did... n't. smartmade frozen meals. real ingredients, grilled and roasted. it's like you made it. and you did... n't.
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>> reporter: in the first cold, dark hours of 2012, ashley fallis's parents followed an ambulance to the hospital. and caught up to her -- in the
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icu. >> we walked into her -- bleeding out of everywhere. >> reporter: there wasn't really any hope. they could see that. she was going to die. >> i just sat down and held her hand. >> reporter: but tom wasn't there to hold her hand. tom fallis was at the evans police station, answering questions. >> i don't know what's going on. i have no idea and that's why i'm asking to speak with you. >> reporter: it was 2:00 a.m. and tom was still wearing blood stained clothes. the ones a sheriff's deputy thought said should already have been bagged as evidence. >> how is your relationship with your wife? >> really good. >> reporter: but tom said ashley was devastated when she miscarried the very day of her new years eve party. >> it was hard for ashley, it was hard for me, but i didn't think that there was getting to
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this point. >> reporter: still, at the party, said tom, she seemed allo right. they got on fine, until the argument about the marijuana. tom admitted he was furious at ashley's family. said he was trying to protect her -- and they weren't. >> i told ashley. i was like, you don't need to get high. i was like, if whatever happened today with the miscarriage, i was like it happened, i was like you know what [ bleep ] your mom, [ bleep ] everybody. >> reporter: so there was no love lost between tom and ashley's parents. that was clear. and tom admitted that he and ashley kept arguing as they got ready for bed. and then he turned around and went to the closet, he said. and -- it was all over. >> so when i was in the closet, i heard her gun cock. and i looked out i was like, i was like, "what are you doing?" and before i even had the chance
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to finish my sentence or close the door, there's smoke. i heard it and it was just smoke. [ sobbing ] i just ran over to her and just grabbed her head. >> reporter: tom told detectives that sadly, he'd been worried about just this sort of thing for more than a year, because ashley had threatened suicide before. >> what was she saying that she wanted to do to herself? >> oh just that, she just wants to end it. she's like, "you and the kids will be better off without me." >> and so she just said those words but she never acted on it. and so, how long is -- >> never once, never once has she ever grabbed her gun, has she ever loaded it -- has she ever made this type of gesture whatsoever. >> reporter: by this time, while the doctors tried to save ashley, tom had been answering questions for hours. >> i have to ask these
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questions. >> i know but -- >> that i have to understand what your relationship is -- >> but the problem is, is that i've been here since freaking 2 o'clock. now its already 5 o'clock and i don't know what's going on with my wife. >> reporter: about then, the detective noticed something else about tom. >> the scratch mark that's on your chest. what is that? >> what? >> you have, you have a long red scratch. what is that? >> oh, probably i've been doing this all freaking night. and then -- >> okay. this one was going straight across here. >> oh. i don't know it's just me. it's not -- >> okay, okay. so it isn't. i just had to ask. >> reporter: the detective left the room and spoke with ashley's parents who'd arrived with the purpose of telling officers just one thing. their daughter did not shoot herself. >> we had just seen her seven minutes before this. she was completely fine. she wouldn't do anything like this. >> reporter: she was in good spirits when they left, they said. she was already planning her next party. but tom?
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he'd always had an awful temper, they said. >> i always was afraid he was going to hurt her, always, always. >> why? what -- what about him? >> his temper. you -- you can't go from zero to 100 and think clearly. >> i think that he was just in a fit of rage. and, he shot her. >> reporter: armed with that new information the detective went back to talk to tom and zeroed in on those scratches. officers had given him something clean to wear so they could collect his bloody clothing. >> you have scratches on your, on your body. >> okay, you see this? this is a shaved chest, so when i'm sitting there. do you know how bad that hurts and itches. i do this all freaking day, this is actually her blood it comes off. see -- oh my gosh, it's coming off, it's her freaking blood. >> that's actually a scratch okay, that's a scratch. >> reporter: still, the detective pressed him. he had motive and opportunity, she said.
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>> when you went upstairs you were arguing with her. and you know you were arguing with her. >> reporter: she was also reluctant to believe the shooting happened so quickly --- no threats, warning or hesitation. >> she went from saying i'm going to do what i want to just pulling -- >> yeah. yeah! she did. i'm not lying to you. >> reporter: and when the detective gave a description about the gunshot wound. a description that turned out to be inaccurate. that really set tom off. >> that wound on the back of her head isn't where she could do it herself, tom. it is not. >> oh [ bleep ] >> it is not >> [ bleep ] [ bleep ] [ bleep ] >> reporter: and then, quite suddenly, in the middle of it all, completely out of nowhere, the detective made an abrupt declaration. >> and i have to let you know that your wife did not make it.
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your wife did not make it. she was breathing when i was holding her, she was breathing. she -- they told me she breathing when she left the house. >> reporter: ashley died while tom was in police custody. >> i didn't shoot my wife. i didn't shoot the mother of my kids. i didn't shoot the person who i wanted to have another one with. >> reporter: what would police believe? tom's story that the shooting was a suicide? or ashley's parents' story? that he'd shot their daughter in a fit of rage? coming up. ashley's family is outraged by the investigation's final report. >> it was incomplete. it was inconsistent. no follow-up. it was unbelievable. >> reporter: then a new investigation turns up a new witness. >> i just started crying because it's the catalyst for opening everything up. i finally have someone who's taking it seriously.
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>> reporter: ashley fallis, 28 years old, wife and mother of three, was dead. the gunshot wound in her head, unsurvivable. "it was suicide," said her husband, tom. >> i didn't shoot my wife. i didn't. i didn't do this. >> reporter: "it was murder," said her parents.
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>> i had three grandkids that i dearly, dearly love that i knew in my heart that tom had just killed their mother. >> reporter: the news of ashley's death spread quickly, the morning after the party. >> i didn't understand what was happening and why and what -- because everything was fine that -- that night. >> as much confusing as anything. >> very confusing. she was happy. she didn't seem suicidal. >> reporter: andrea, new friend, co-worker, drinking buddy at the party, couldn't shake a feeling. >> i don't feel like she would have taken her life. tom was the only other person that was there. >> so if it wasn't her, it had to be him. >> right. >> reporter: but, for all their middle of the night questions, the police did not arrest tom, nor charge him with anything. >> what were they telling you along the way? >> oh, that they were investigating it. >> reporter: at ashley's funeral, tom was one of the speakers. >> ashley doesn't have much patience. >> reporter: and what he said wasn't the sort of thing people expected to hear.
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>> she goes, "i don't care when you do it, where you do it, i want it now." >> reporter: it was an unusual and frankly not emotional eulogy, for reasons only tom might understand. but her parents were furious. >> when he had that opportunity to speak and share about the woman he so- called loved and called "his eternal wife," all he did was degrade her. >> what was it like to hear that? >> it was shocking. it was unbelievable. >> reporter: as the days turned into weeks and tom remained free, ashley's parents became convinced that something about the investigation was not right. >> joel and i sat down and said, "look, if for some crazy reason she walked in the house and shot herself and they can show that, we will accept it and support tom." we didn't feel like that was, you know, the case.
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>> reporter: they weren't alone. remember, on the night it happened, former deputy brian spencer saw tom roaming around freely with blood and other potential evidence all over him. >> police 101, a very basic thing. any scene that you respond to, you wanna treat it as the highest level of what it could possibly be. >> sure, so he would be a suspect. >> he needed to be preserved. he needed to be controlled. >> reporter: but none of that was done at the scene. pretty soon, ashley's parents began to suspect there was a cover-up to protect tom, perhaps the so called "blue wall of silence" looking out for a fellow law-enforcement officer. >> it's a hell of an accusation to make though. >> it is. it is strong, but that is how we feel. >> reporter: mind you, the evans police department strongly disagreed. both the coroner and the crime scene investigator issued reports concluding ashley's death was indeed suicide. and remember, tom told the police she had expressed
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suicidal thoughts before. she had two close relatives who'd taken their own lives. investigators found prescription psychotropic drugs in ashley's purse and nightstand, which tom told them she quit cold turkey without medical supervision when she learned she was pregnant. two months after ashley's death, her parents got the news they feared. police ruled her death a suicide. case closed. >> it made me angry. [ sighs ] it made me angry. because i knew -- i knew that he shot her. i knew that ashley wouldn't take her own life. >> once the case closed and we got the police report, we realized they didn't do anything. >> so tell me more about the police report and what you didn't like about it. >> it was incomplete. it was inconsistent. could've been written by a high school student. no follow-up.
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it was unbelievable. >> reporter: the evans police department declined to speak with dateline on camera but said this about the allegations against them -- "the investigation we conducted was thorough and complete. a conclusion of suicide was determined after an exhaustive review and analysis of all evidence -- physical, forensic, and testimonial, by all of the five agencies involved." as for ashley's parents, well, there was nothing more either of them could do, apparently. two years went by, during which tom moved to indiana with the kids and enrolled at a local university. >> and i said to him, "tom, murderers always move away." >> reporter: it was important to ashley's parents to remain close to those three kids, so they fought for grandparents' rights and tried, they said, to be civil with tom. but, they also told anyone who would listen that they believed their daughter had been murdered, like a local reporter. >> he said, "do you mind if i
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start looking into this?" and i said, and i said, "no, go ahead. start looking into it." and it didn't take him much. >> reporter: the reporter asked around, talked to neighbors, and asked the evans police department to comment on what he heard. and before you knew it, the chief announced ashley's case would be re- opened. >> i extend my sincere sympathy to the family of ashley fallis for their loss and for the revisited grief that can accompany the reopening of a difficult case such as this one." >> i just started crying because it's the catalyst for opening everything up. i finally have someone who's taking it seriously. >> reporter: denver's fox 31 aired the startling discoveries that prompted the new investigation. in particular, a neighbor, who was only 15 at the time, and said he heard tom admit to shooting ashley. >> pretty hard to forget, hearing somebody confess their murder and then getting away with it. >> reporter: to prevent any suggestion of taint or coverup, the case was turned over to the
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nearby fort collins police department. for the next seven months, officers talked to witnesses, both old and new, and hired experts to re-examine forensic evidence. and when their work was done, weld county da michael rourke decided to assemble a grand jury. >> what i wanna do is i wanna put all of that information as much as we can gather and almost use it as a test run. >> and they said? >> and they indicted him. >> i got the phone call that -- that they indicted him, and i just started crying. >> reporter: tom fallis was arrested in indiana, charged with second-degree murder and brought back to colorado to stand trial. ashley's parents were finally optimistic. >> i believe that they will find him guilty of murdering our daughter. i believe that's going to happen. >> have you decided to believe it or do you really believe it? >> i really believe it. >> reporter: coming up -- a powerful one-two punch from the prosecution.
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>> i heard him saying, "oh my god, what have i done?" >> she said, "i could hear her screaming, 'get off me! get off me!'" >> reporter: case closed? far from it. when dateline continues. on your medicare part d prescriptions. at walgreens we make it easy for you to seize the day by helping you get more out of life and medicare part d. now with zero-dollar copays on select plans... ...and rewards points on all prescriptions, walgreens has you covered. so drop by and seize the savings! walgreens. at the corner of happy and healthy. you may be muddling through allergies.oned with...
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>> reporter: four years after husband, tom, was on trial for her murder. dan grossman, of nbc's denver affiliate, k-u-s-a was in the courtroom for opening statements. >> the room was packed. you have ashley's parents who are there, a lot of family members. aunts, uncles. and even just people from the public were interested in this case. >> reporter: the prosecution's allegation was perfectly clear: ---tom fallis argued with his wife and in a fit of rage, shot and killed her. >> at the conclusion of this case after you've received all of the evidence, you will be convinced, beyond a reasonable doubt, that it is him who pulled the trigger. >> reporter: prosecution witnesses said ashley was in high spirits at her new year's eve party, not at all suicidal. >> she was happy the whole night laughing, smiling. >> she was dancing with her
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children, um, interacting with all the guests >> reporter: tom, though? ashley's uncle john testified about tom's sudden blow up when he discovered ashley asked him for a joint. >> and i was sort of taken aback by it, because everything was fine that night then all of a sudden, boom. so i was just like woah. >> reporter: a neighbor said ashley told her how tom got physical with her. >> she told me how he had pushed her around before. he had never hit her but he was physical in pushing her. >> reporter: d.a. rourke wanted the jury to hear that tom had a hot temper. that he was volatile. >> anger would've been most obvious motive. >> simply lost his temper? >> anger. >> gun nearby. bang. >> right. >> reporter: to prove it, the witness 'ear-witness'you could say, nick glover, the neighbor whose story was reported on television and helped reopen the case. >> i heard him saying, oh my god what have i done, oh my god what have i done. >> reporter: nick was 15 at the time.
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he said he remembered crouching down inside his house, under an open window, listening to tom speak to people in his driveway. >> you can hear one of them, i do not know who it was, um say what, what do you mean? and he proceeded to say, i shot my wife. >> reporter: nick said he knew it was tom. he could see him out the window.. >> how certain are you that the voice you're hearing is tom fallis' voice? >> i am 100 percent. >> reporter: there was more. nick's mom, kathy glover, testified that on the night of the shooting, she got a strange phone call from a teenage neighbor. around 1am. >> she said please tell me you called the police and i said no, i didn't, why? and she said, because your neighbor just shot his wife. and i said, what!? and she said, i could hear her screaming get off me get off me. >> reporter: powerful evidence. and then that neighbor testified. but -- uh-oh.
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>> do you recall telling kathy glover in a phone conversation that same early morning, i heard her screaming, get off me, get off me? >> i do not. >> reporter: she was 16, and drinking that night, she said. so that might explain her faulty memory. >> do you recall telling officer croissant that you heard a female yelling, get off of me, get off of me? >> i do not. >> did you expect that from her? >> yeah. >> you did? >> it didn't surprise me. >> it hurt ya though. >> it hurt, but i thought that, you know, when you have a police officer who interviews her within an hour, hour and a half of the shooting, and she is clear as day as saying, these are the things i heard from my back window, whether she had been drinking that night or not, to me that's the most believable version of events. >> reporter: so. a hiccup, perhaps. but then there was the crime scene. remember, the coronor, and the csi officer, said at the time that the scene screamed suicide. but, this prosecution witness --
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>> my name is jonathyn w. priest. >> reporter: priest is a former homicide detective and forensic consultant who used a miniature model of the fallis bedroom to show ashley's position. >> she has to be here and then bent down so that she'll fit into this trajectory area. >> reporter: he was convinced that if ashley shot herself, there would be more blood on the floor and surrounding surfaces. not just this one carpet stain. >> we have indications of, of, of bleeding, but the type of injury that we're talking about is going to bleed a lot, and that's not the kind of stain i would expect to see if that's what was occurring. something is keeping that blood from reaching that area. >> reporter: and he believed that 'something' was tom fallis. remember, his clothing was drenched with blood. and so priest concluded tom and ashley must have been in close contact when the gun went off. using the prosecutor, he suggested there was a struggle
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when the shot was fired. >> i can keep blood staining from getting onto the wall, or, or onto the cabinet, and i can lower her, continuing to bleed, onto my shirt to where i get her in this position. >> reporter: the prosecution rested its case. what possible defense could there be? well. for a start, this -- >> i have so much pain on the inside i can no longer take it. >> reporter: a letter. and what a letter it was. coming up. a troubled marriage? or a troubled young woman? >> what kind of mental health issues did you observe ashley fallis to be going through? >> mood swings, impulsive behaviors. >> reporter: and, the verdict. fothere's a seriousy boomers virus out there that's been almost forgotten. it's hepatitis c. one in 30 boomers has hep c, yet most don't even know it.
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>> reporter: it can't be an easy
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ashley fallis committed suicide. >> reporter: remember how the prosecution talked of ashey's happy frame of mind? "that ashley was a kind of lie," said the defense. >> ashley fallis was a beautiful woman, but she had a terrible pain inside. she was mentally ill. >> reporter: the defense put one of ashley's close friends on the stand. >> what did you know of ashley having a mental illness? >> i knew that she was on medications. we spoke pretty in depth about that. >> reporter: but even with medications, the friend testifed, ashley had trouble controlling her emotions. >> what kind of mental health issues, uhm, did you observe ashley fallis to be going through? >> depression, mood swings, impulsive behaviors.
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>> reporter: in fact, the defense argued ashley was so depressed the summer before she died, she wrote this letter to tom. >> "i have so much pain on the inside i can no longer take it. i'm sorry to do this to you and the kids, but i find myself not even liking my children." >> reporter: "every day is a chore with them and you. i have to pretend to be happy. i have to pretend to be someone i am not. please make sure you raise the kids to continue to go the school we have chosen. i do love them. i just can't take this life any longer. please make sure you let them know every day that i do love them, and this was not their fault." suicide expert dr. michael allen studied the letter as well as ashley's medical records and testified about his review. >> do you have an opinion in this case about whether or not ashley fallis was a high risk to commit suicide on january 1, 2012? >> yes.
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my opinion is that she had many, many risk factors and warning signs. >> reporter: remember, detectives had learned years before that ashley had a family history of suicide. both her maternal uncle and her grandmother took their own lives. "that," said dr. allan, "put ashley at a higher risk for doing the same thing." >> two close family members who had died by suicide would suggest a genetic propensity for suicide. the defense argued that on new year's eve 2011, it was the miscarriage that broke her will to go on. that she spent the night masking her pain with alcohol that she planned to dull it further with marijuana after the party. and that's why tom was upset. >> she was vulnerable. he was concerned about her. he didn't want her to add
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marijuana to this toxic system that was developing inside of ashley fallis. >> reporter: the defense conceded ashley and tom quarrelled that night, but insisted it never got physical. those scratches on tom's chest? the ones the prosecutors believed were proof of a struggle? dna tests never found any evidence to support that. >> you did not find any of ashley fallis' dna, cellular material on the swabs from tom's chest correct? >> that is correct. >> reporter: the defense reminded jurors that tom told police why he had the scratches, that he'd done a little "manscaping" to spice up his marriage. he had texts and photos to prove it. >> there's tom fallis when he has hair on his chest, all the way to the left, and on december 17th, 2011, he texted ashley, "there you have it. you get your way, so here it is. thought you might like it." >> reporter: so the scratches, said the defense were because it was itchy.
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and that's all. as for the so-called witnesses, said the defense, totally unreliable. the one changed her story on the stand, and the other? well, just months after the shooting, young nick glover went camping, of all things, with tom, the very man he said he heard confess to shooting ashley fallis. >> at no time during the camping trip with tom fallis did you ever tell anybody that you were uncomfortable being there with tom fallis? >> i do not recall. >> reporter: who to believe? for example, there wasn't one but two, prosecution crime scene analysts. this one, you've already heard, believed it was murder. but this one? >> most people that shoot somebody in an act of rage, they don't stop with one shot. >> reporter: dan gilliam was the crime scene expert from the first investigation of ashley's death. using a defense attorney about the same height as ashley, he demonstrated how difficult it
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would have been for someone as tall as tom to have shot ashley at an angle that matched the bullet's trajectory. >> first of all, is that an unnatural position? for another person to be holding the gun in that manner? >> it is. it is for me. >> okay, and mr. fallis is six feet tall. how tall are you? >> i'm six feet as well. >> okay. >> reporter: and the gun was ashley's. the shooting happened in arm's reach of where it was usually stored, said the defense. after examining all the ballistic and blood spatter evidence, gilliam just didn't believe the shooting was murder. >> i believe that the story that mr. fallis gave is consistent with the evidence found at the scene. >> reporter: in other words, he thought it was suicide. so, what happened in that moment after midnight? how would a juror decide? >> upon reaching a verdict, you will inform the bailiff, who will in turn notify me. >> reporter: kusa's dan grossman settled in for a bit of a wait.
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>> this is almost a three-week trial. there's a lot of evidence. you thought that you were looking at coming back the next day to hear the verdict. >> reporter: but, no. less than four hours later, a verdict. >> "we the jury find the defendant, thomas fallis, not guilty of murder in the second degree and all lesser included offenses, signed by the jury foreperson." >> reporter: not guilty. not murder. after four long years of living under a cloud of suspicion, tom fallis was acquitted of all charges. >> he stayed straight-faced. his -- his defense attorney, iris eytan, was very emotional. but ashley's parents, they -- they left the courtroom fairly quickly. >> reporter: ashley's parents declined to talk with dateline after the verdict, but their legal battles are far from over. in 2015, they filed a civil lawsuit against several employees of the evans police department and the weld county sheriff's office who they believe falsified, altered, and omitted key evidence to make ashley's death look like a
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suicide. and despite the verdict, they currently have no plans to drop it. the employees are contesting the lawsuit, and litigation is ongoing. >> what about ashley's family? can they just accept this, and go on? >> i don't think they'll ever accept it. to say that they were distraught would be an understatement. they i think truly believe that tom fallis killed their daughter. and they are never gonna let that go. >> reporter: an idea, once so deeply ingrained, true or not, will not go away. and tom fallis and his children make a life as best they can. >> and that's all for this edition of "dateline."
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i'm lester holt. for all of us at nbc news, goodnight. ...with a look at the funniest sitcoms... are you as turned on as i am? more! ...the most powerful dramas... do you really think that you're gonna walk out of here? ...the legendary late-night moments, from johnny to jimmy, and the groundbreaking shows that changed the television landscape forever. i'm gay. plus, a tribute to "saturday night live"... really? really. huh. huh. ...classic moments from the golden age of television... you got all night to make a fool of yourself. i only got an hour. ...and catchphrases from some of your all-time favorite characters. hello, newman. it's a star-studded spectacular featuring the biggest names in nbc history and hosted by five-time emmy winner kelsey grammer. i'm listening. and it all starts right now. it's on! [ nbc chimes ring ]


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