Anatomy of Murder

A murder case has many layers: the victim, the crime, and the investigation. To truly understand it, you need to dissect each piece of a tragic puzzle. Join Anna-Sigga Nicolazzi and Scott Weinberger every Wednesday for an insider’s perspective, as they reveal to you the Anatomy of Murder.

After the Fire (Chisa Hawkins, Vernard Millner)

After the Fire (Chisa Hawkins, Vernard Millner)

Tue, 11 Oct 2022 07:00

Myth: Fire destroys everything.

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Hey there anatomy and murder listeners. Many of you have questions about older episodes, cases, the podcast, and even us. We're planning on releasing a bonus episode where we answer your questions and we want to hear from you. So send us your questions by calling us at 1-800-619-2270. And here's that number again and write it down 800-619-2270. You can also find it on our socials at Anna Seagannick-A-Lawsey, at Wineburger Media, at AOM Podcast, and our website Leave us a message with your questions and look out for this special bonus episode. Now, on to today's case. We had nothing at the scene. We had no witnesses. We had no physical evidence because it basically been burned, okay? So all you have are two dead people in a room. And that's it. I'm Scott Wineburger, investigative journalist and former deputy sheriff. I'm Anna Seagannick-A-Lawsey, former New York City homicide prosecutor and host of investigation discoveries through conviction. And this is anatomy of murder. Today's case isn't going to start with the homicide, but instead a fire. I had been an investigator for about 22 years since March 7, 1987. This is James O'Neill, who is a fire marshal in the city of Buffalo, New York back in 2010. Well, I've investigated well over 3,000 cases. This type of investigation is a first for us here at AOM, nearly a hundred episodes in with interviewed cold case investigators and CIS investigators and even an ATF undercover agent. But we've never had the opportunity to interview a fire marshal investigator. And basically what a fire marshal does is this. They are certainly an investigator in their own right, but a very specific type. So when it comes to any fire that specially deemed suspicious, they're looking at the point of origin so they can decide what it was that caused the fire and if there's any criminality involved. When it comes to fires in the city of Buffalo, New York, investigators are clearly busy there. In the city of Buffalo in a fire marshal's office, at that time we're investigating over 600 fires a year, 600 structure fires and that didn't include vehicle fires. So let's just set the scene a little bit. It's Buffalo, which is Northern New York. It's winter time. It's January. It's one of those dark, cold, blustery nights that you just want to be wrapped up somewhere inside. The temperature that night was something like 12 degrees. And as the night went on, that temperature just kept dropping. It was just before sunrise when a 911 call brought the fire department to a two story family home on Darth Smith Avenue. The caller stating that they believed the home was occupied and potentially there were victims trapped inside. And when that call came in, it actually threw James, remember he's a fire marshal, his partner, another fire marshal, into a bit of a panic. My partner became extremely excited because his sister resided just down the street, a few doors from this fire boss. He was afraid that if they had the address incorrect, which has happened before, we get a call of a fire at a certain address and it turns out it's not that address. He was noticed to me shaking, I told him I said calm down. You know, in my days in uniform on patrol, I have had the occasion where I've responded to an occupied building on fire or even I've driven up and seen a fire and had a radio the fire department to respond. But it was working as a street reporter here in New York City where I saw the most horrific multi-fetality fires. Fire officials will tell you that in most cases, it is not the flames, but the smoke, which is the leading cause of fatalities. My partner that works with me, he got there fairly quickly when he got there. His sister was outside the building and it turns out that she was the original 911 caller who reported this fire. When both investigators arrived on scene, they realized that while this was not his sister's home, this was a raging blaze. The fire suppression crews were on scene and they had hose lying advanced into the building and there was smoke coming from the second floor. The first thing we saw when we pulled up, there was a vehicle in the driveway, back then, there was some fresh snow, tire marks in the snow. They also had information that there may be up to four people trapped inside. I started getting concerned and I said, we had a search underway by the fire department. So you have the actual battalion chief and he has crews that are actually advancing up the second floor into this home. And they were driven back by the heat and flame because they just couldn't get up there. So once the actual hose that puts the fire out was advanced up the stairs, they were able to move in, knock the fire down and when they knocked the fire down, they continued their search. And when they got into the bedroom, they found exactly what they had been hoping not to find. So a short time later, the division chief called me on the phone and he said, we have recovered two victims. Can you please come to the second floor? There was two people and we'll call them victims because they were no longer alive. There was a man lying face down and a woman on the floor right next to the bed. I took a couple of fast pictures and the pictures really were not beneficial because they're steam and smoke. But you could see the bodies. The bodies were unrecognizable. I mean, you could tell that one was a large person, one was a small person at that time. The flesh was split for lack of a better word. It would be like a hot dog on a grill after exposed to a lot of heat. It splits and the skin was like that. And you know, we're not going to get overly graphic when we talk about what it was that investigator saw. But I can tell you, having been at these scenes, and I remember it would be first homicide scene that I actually went out to was a case I handled up a fire marshal actually who had been killed and they covered that up with an arson. And to see human remains in that state, it isn't even so much the what you see. It's the smell. And I'll leave it at that. To the naked eye, this could appear to be just a tragic fire with two victims. But to a trained arson investigator, several things stood out. Tragedy of course, yes, but accidental probably not. And with that, I advanced downstairs and I called our district attorney and I told her, I said, you need to probably take a ride out here because this isn't looking good at all. Jim O'Neill had established what he believed to be a suspicious fire with two fatalities who were already likely dead before the fire began. The very moment it's deemed to be a suspicious death, investigation is handed over to Buffalo homicide investigators. My name is Mark Clawber and I was a member of the Buffalo Police for 23 years. I was assigned to the homicide squad as detectives. Think about an arson as this. Your evidence at least potentially has actually disappeared because of that fire. And here's the interesting thing when we have an arson. The first thing we're always asking ourselves was the fire itself, which was the cause of death or was that done afterwards to cover up some other means of killing our victims in that case. So here's exactly where both James O'Neill and Mark Clawber are going to have to look right away. We're going to walk through this crime scene from the perspective of two investigators. They both have the same goal to find out what happened, but each one is more a tune to pick up on the different things based on their own personal experience. So as you hear the little details of the scene, think about what this says to you. And so when we look at James, the fire marshal's goal is going to be to determine the cause. So he's going to start with point of origin. The key is trying to figure out was this an accidental fire or is it going to be a homicide? After the fire is extinguished, that's when I go to work. So now I command and we're documenting everything we call additional investigators into assist. So we go upstairs and we start a systematic approach. So also interestingly in looking for the point of the origin, you know, the fire marshal's are not just looking within. They're also looking outside the premises and something they noted was specific to the back of the house. We go around the building looking for footprints. Was there someone that were around the back of the building? I'm looking for broken windows. I'm looking where the fire invented itself, where the smoke came out, where the broken windows are. That all contributes and helps you determine a point of fire origin. Remember, it's a winter and it had just been snowing. I saw no footprints in the back, nothing to the garage area. So if there's no footprints, the question is, well, how could that be? And then I proceeded to look at the locks or front door, the locks were disengaged, meaning that the door was not locked when the fire department arrived there. So there was no forced entry anywhere in the house. But now if you have no footprints and no forced entry, what does that say to all of you? I immediately started thinking, oh boy. This is not looking good right from the start. Now we move inside and it's where the most intensive part of the crime scene investigation occurs. You begin to determine the origin of the fire and what accelerants of any may have been used to intensify the blaze. Everything depends where the fire is. Is it in a bathroom? Is it a ceiling fan in a bathroom? If the fire starts in the kitchen, the first thing you start to think of is a kitchen fire. You know, somebody fell asleep and left the grease going. And the first thing James notices is that there is smoke detectors hanging from the ceiling by the wires. It was disconnected. That was very strange. And those smoke detectors weren't the only thing that was unplugged. Where you would find a landline, a telephone line with an air thing being attached to it. That was missing from the table, plus the plug in the wall was removed from it. Next, they move up to the second floor and something else catches their eyes. I also noticed a box of wooden matches on the top of the stairs. And also a battery operator smoke detector that had been on the ground and the battery was removed from it. That was on the stairs also. And there was a photograph of the victim, the female victim on the stairs. I think it's apparent to us and probably to all of you listening that this was a fire that was no accident. It was premeditated. And this was murder. I also just talk about like, if I walked into someone's house, I don't know that I would necessarily know where to look for all these fire alarms and smoke detectors. What does that say to you? Either that somebody had staked out the location, privacy, or somebody who was well familiar with the house had been there multiple times and has seen those things. Remember, you start a fire, you get smokey pretty quickly. So ultimately you would have known where these items were. But there was something else that really was surprising to me was the find of the picture of the victim on that same staircase. That's quite a head scratcher. Did the killer want to take a memento with them or just dropped it on their way out while they were rushing outside the door? I also look at it Scott though like that one though, like or was it placed there almost as, you know, like when there's a homicide that stage and they want investigators or people afterwards to find certain things like did this person want that photograph to be found? All possibilities. And so while investigators were noticing all these different things in the house, remember the unplugged smoke detectors, there's unplugged telephones, there's matches, one thing they didn't find at least in most of that home was fire. Yeah, there was no indication that the fire was in any other part of the house except for that single bedroom. And that immediately told me that I really started to be concerned and started thinking possibly excellarant because that's unusual burning to see. And so right away that tells them well that is the likely source of the fire and that is the same room that they had two victims lying inside. I noticed that there was a hole burned through the floor right where the female body was and there was a hole burned through the floor under the bed directly below the male decedent. The irregular burning, unusual burning that I saw, it was telltale to me that there was an excellarant present because there's nothing that could burn the way it did with that intensity without being an excellarant. Simply put, an excellarant is used in this type of arson fire to make sure the flame doesn't go out and continues to burn at a high temperature, high rate of movement and that is destroying anything in its path. Just think about putting lighter fluid into a fire pit or a larger bond fire and seeing how quickly the wood and the fire intensifies because of that excellarant, it is the same principle. We quickly determined that both victims had been shot and their heads. It appears that the female was shot, execution style, she was on her knees and was shot. The female was found face down in the direction of the bedroom door and she was between the closet and her bed. The male victim was on that bed laying on a stomach about ten feet away from the female victim. They were also able to see that the male victim had suffered even more than those gun shot wounds. I noticed severe trauma to his head, the back right side of his head, I asked the fire fire, did you hit him with an ex funny chance? No, no, no. You know so when you have this head trauma, there's different possibilities. Did they have a fall while trying to escape? Did they fall out of bed? Was it the impact from the gun shot wound and this victim suffered multiple gun shot wounds or were they actually beaten? As I searched through around his head, there was still a little remains of the mattress. There was an empty magazine or clip from a gun on the mattress, neck to his body. It was determined that the male victim had been pistol whipped after being shot and then his body was set on fire. In proper terms, the cartridge that holds bullets in a gun is called a magazine and for it to be ejected from the bottom of a semi-automatic handgun, just gives you a sense of the force that the victim's head was struck with. It is revealed that the victims were shot, then beaten, and then burned and that is another level of evil pointing to the potential crime of passion or possibly a vendetta or what about both? It certainly can be both. You know, I referred back to the first crime scene I went to, which is the case I handled. In that case, it was, believe it or not, a rent dispute that led to someone killing him and lighting his body on fire afterwards. You really do, unfortunately, see it all. More often than not, the arson's are to cover up the death, but sometimes they are the means of death itself. When he rolled the body at sea, he still had the remains of some gray boxer shorts and he was a large man. He was 321 pounds, 6 foot 5. A forensic crime scene search in an arson case takes a specific set of skills. Investigator O'Neill displayed that in his next move. I saw the boxers, I sniffed the boxers. There are hydrocarbon detectors that you can use, and probably in this day and age people would say, is that a good idea? But there's nothing better than my nose. And you know, people chuckle when they hear that it was his nose, it was his best tool, but it really does come down to basics. A dedicated public servant, for sure. A distinct odor of an accelerant. And the evidence here is that it was poured over the victim's body. When investigator O'Neill began to examine both victim's bodies, the female was naked. But based on the fact that an accelerant was likely used, he was unsure whether her clothing just burned away. So at this point, investigators know they have two victims that have both been shot, one's been beaten, they both endured fire on top of that, and it certainly looks like an arson homicide on their hands. But what they don't have, they don't have a murder weapon, they don't even yet have the actual identity of who the victims are or how they might be related to one another. But they did find one clue that gave them a strong indication. While the fire department was taking care of what was inside that room, we were looking around in the house. And what we found was there was a birthday cake on the kitchen table. There was a name on that cake. Chesa. Was this the name of the female victim? That was the question. There was a garbage can and inside the garbage can was a card, a birthday card. And so if this is Chesa's birthday, why would there be a birthday card already in the trash? You know, generally you get a birthday card and you don't throw it right out, you know, especially maybe the day of your birthday usually wait a couple days. But when you get them, you throw them out later. But if you're getting a card, especially if it's for someone special, you're going to hold on to it at least through that day. Unless there's a reason you really don't want it. It was right there and then investigators got a big break. This family arrived at the crime scene. And they not only told police who the victims were, they also knew who the killer was. So based on the various clues are already being put together, detectives are beginning to form a timeline of the events. What were you able to determine the couple had gone out to celebrate for a birthday? So they were gone from the home for approximately 10 hours. So in that time frame, so many had the opportunity to access the house and we've been to come home. We've got a few footprints outside of the home, but we do know there was a fresh blanket of snow. So now the lying in weight theory holds a lot of weight. But the question still remains who are the victims? As investigators are processing the scene, the male victims family had heard the news and arrives at the home and they were able to give the police the identity of both those found inside. Her name was Chesa Hawkins. She was loved, she was absolutely loved by her family. College graduate working in her field. She was 27 years old and the mother of a six year old son, the boy was not at home at the time of the fire. She also had a special need sister that was living with her. She was taking care of her sister. They weren't at the residence because they had gone elsewhere because of the overnight. The male victim was positively identified as Bernard Milder. Bernard was a little bit older than her, he was more of a heavy build, like a weight lift lift. And Bernard's family told them that Chesa and Bernard had begun dating just very recently and by all accounts, a couple really seemed very happy together and their relationship was going really well. It was Detective Mark Lawber's job to give the family the horrific news. Any conversation like that where you're making a death notice patient is terrible and they're there. They see the damage, they see the fire department there so they can kind of surmise what may have happened. They know that there's a possibility they were murdered. Very forthcoming with the line of information because they really wanted to find out who had done this to their family. While Mark is interviewing Bernard's family, they tell him that Bernard had been threatened by Chesa's ex-boyfriend and they didn't just hear it from Bernard, a friend of his actually brought proof. It turns out that our male victim had given his friend access to his answering machine code so he could listen to the messages in case something happened. Bernard was so concerned about the threatening voicemail. He thought, let me leave it with a friend foreshadowing potentially. What was to come? That's pretty chilling. So this gentleman came over and produced this and played some of the messages on there. And he can hear from the beginning that the man on the other end leaving those messages, it is an understatement to say that that man sounded very angry. He was like screaming at the top as long as he was threatening violence to Milner. He did not mention a weapon or anything but he was threatening to kill him. He was threatening to assault him, get him back. I mean, that's kind of the nature of the conversations he's leaving on the phone. And so who was the voice on the other end of those messages? Well, that was the voice of Chesa's ex-boyfriend. His name was Byron Howard and he had not taken their breakup very well at all. But a threatening message is really just a lead at this point, not enough for them to make an arrest. Well, you know, you hear, unfortunately, things like this all the time. Lots of breakups don't go well. And there are certain people that don't take those breakups well. And they lash out with anger, at least with their words. You know, I'm thinking back, Scott, to a case that we did for true conviction that it wasn't just a family that thought it wasn't that case. The husband who had done it because he had been very angry about things and he was the only one who had survived. The whole town thought it, but in the end, they were all wrong and the perpetrator had nothing to do with the family at all. So clearly investigators take that into account, but they're going to need much more than just those messages. The family needs to suspect it. And of course, they're going to blame it initially and we're trying to caution them, saying, please don't go out and tell people that he did this. Please don't because we don't know, in fact, if he did do it. So what we're going to do is going to follow our evidence and we're going to update you as we find things that we find pertinent fuel. We've talked about the obvious difficulty that forensic investigators have in an arson investigation based on the fact that the fire may have been started to destroy the very thing they're looking for, which is evidence. But investigator O'Neill points out that while it's difficult, it's not impossible. You know, I think probably one of the biggest misconceptions is that a lot of people think that the gasoline is going to burn everything up and that's not true. We had a meeting the next morning at the homicide office and we determined, obviously, that we now have a 22 caliber weapon that was the murder weapon. We have the magazine. We don't have the murder weapon. We decided that we're going to look for the shell casings. And it's really interesting how they do it. Like, I've actually watched them take those ashes with a shovel and they put it through a sifter. It's almost like picture like if you're sifting flour and that's what happened here. We proceeded to sift the piles of debris that we had pushed through the holes in the floor and it landed on the first floor on top of those yellow blankets. They found three shell casings from that 22 caliber weapon. So detectives now bring Bernard's family, actually the two families at this point. Chesas to back to the office to do proper interviews to get as much information about this Byron Howard as they can and his relationship with Chesa. He's definitely on a radar. However, we have no physical evidence. We have no eyewitnesses. A tie into the crime just shut. We don't know if there was somebody else that did this at the behest of him. A conspiracy we had paid somebody else for asked somebody else to do this. So he was involved in it. To what extent we didn't know until we continued along with the investigation. So who was our prime suspect Byron Howard? He's 22 years old. He's six foot two and is set to have a pretty slight build. He had also recently enlisted in the US Navy. He was in contact with the Naval Intelligence Service to try to get some background on him to see if fact if was he going there. And when was he going to there? What did they find in their background investigation of him? And then an interesting part was during their notes, he expressed to them that he was going to marry Chesa Hawkins. We did follow up Buffalo City Hall and there was a request from him for a marriage license. But was it a done deal or was this only one person in the equation that was seeing that as their path forward? What was the relationship? Was he an ex-boyfriend? Was he an ex-fiancé? Had they broken up and he was trying to get back together with her? She didn't have any long term plans with Byron Howard. However, he did. He was joined the Navy and he had bought a wedding ring. He was going to ask her to marry him before she ended the relationship. So I think he was very stung by that. And what's most important to know about Byron Howard that Vinard's family, the victim, his own family found and was very concerned that Byron Howard was a dangerous man. That's why they all had access to his voicemail so they could hear messages he felt threatened by this guy. Even though he was probably twice his size, but there was just something about Byron Howard that set everybody back a little bit. And speaking to Chesa's family, here's something really interesting that he learned. Byron Howard went to her house earlier in the day and he had a birthday card for her. So he goes to the house like, you know, he's still in this relationship. She refuses to answer the door. She won't let him in. So he takes the birthday card and slides it under the door. And then like I said, when we did the search, we found the birthday card in the garbage. She had even opened it. So what we suspected is, he went back to the house at some point. He must have determined that there was nobody in the house. So then he accessed the house and waited for them to come home. Clearly the next step for Mark was to sit down with Howard, but preparing for that potential interview would be key. They already conducted several interviews, as Anaseka said, with family members of the victim. But they also developed a potential timeline of events to challenge Howard on. And a key piece of evidence that would be difficult for him to skate around would be his own voice. We also had the audio from the phone. Digital forensics can be a powerful tool to building a solid case. So then we went through and we started to order the phone records for Byron Howard. And the phone records for Chesa, the phone records were Bernard Milner. Start the ball rolling with that so we can have this information immediately. Over the next few days, detectives did receive some of the phone records between Byron Howard, Chesa and Bernard. As expected, it did fill in a few pieces of the puzzle, a picture of a man who wanted something and clearly unhappy about being ignored. He was initiating the calls. They weren't returning calls. They weren't initiating calls to him. Everything was from his diet, initiating, right? Investigators determined that it was time to bring Byron in for that question and located him in his parents house. We went to his house and he was there with his mother and his stepfather. Knocked on the door and they were like, oh, are you here about Chesa and we're like, yes, we like, hey, we'd like to come down and get a little background in her and would remind coming down from the interview. And he agreed. He voluntarily came with us. He didn't appear nervous to me. However, this is the first time in Mademoiselle. I'm just trying to gauge what he's doing. He's like, should I bring my jacket? Should I bring my ID? We're like, of course. And I said, if you'd like to bring your cell phone, that's fine too. He's like, okay, he brought everything down. He was not inquisitive about why we're bringing him down. He was just kind of acting kind of nonchalant in the back seat when we went to headquarters. Just because someone's willing to talk and it appears to be open to share information, you know, it doesn't necessarily mean they're going to be truthful. I'm doing it around by myself and there. I started my questioning with him about the background and the relationship with Chesa and how all that went. And he was still kind of insisting that they were going to be married. Well, you know, I understand you were threatening him. Well, he was threatening me too and this went back and forth. And I'm like, okay, you know, that's fine. It's almost to me like he's so nonplustre. Remember this woman that he's supposedly in love with is dead by some of the most horrific means possible, but yet he already has an answer for everything. And I at least started to wonder if he had been thinking about this before, like what he might say, if ever asked. So, you know, then we started to get into, you know, the phone and I said, we have information that you were calling and you're leaving threatening messages. And Mark had just placed Byron in a corner that he may not be able to wiggle out of. And he's like, you can have my phone right now and look at it. I'm like, okay. So he gives me consent. I scroll through the phone. All the messages between those three had been erased from his phone. He's like, see, there's nothing here. So then I went and got the records. And I said, well, actually, that's not true. I said, we have your phone records and we have all the communication. You know, you guys do what I mean. He's like, oh, I don't really remember all that. Well, I've got the information right behind me. Mark did see that Howard started to get uneasy and shift a bit at how he's now been caught in his first lie. It's a little bit uneasy because I think he knows that we're building a case against somebody's there. He's still talking and we're not stopping him. So he starts, you know, to go through this whole process again, I had nothing to do with this. I loved her. You know, Scott, I'm just curious, how would you approach it from that point? Back in the academy, we learned it. It's called verbal judo, where it's utilizing your voice, the tone of your voice, to de-escalate situations before they get violent. You know, I've been in situations where I've taken a step back intentionally, giving a subject in the same room and opportunity and option, not to be desperate and perhaps they believe, and this is a way out, they can work it out with me and it won't lead to where they think I'm just going to step up, tell them to turn around and place them in handcuffs. But then there is a point that you might want to change the interview. You know, and different investigators have different tax, you know, sometimes you hear that age-old adage of good cop bad cop. If you and I were in the room together at a see-go, I'm just kind of figure out who would be the good cop and who would be the bad cop. We'll let all of you out there figure that out. We'll leave it alone right here. I think I know the answer to that. I think it might be kind of fun, guys, I'm going to take a side step here that maybe on social media today, Scott, and I put something up and we just hear from you guys, like, who would be good cop bad cop on a different day and why? I think you have a tendency to explode it. So I was trying to be very calm, very relaxed, letting them know we're just trying to talk about what happened, you know, can you help us find out what did it? This is kind of how I'm trying to put him at ease during that, right? But he was very adamant that he had nothing to do with it. You know, Mark knew from those phone messages that Howard had a temper. So like for me, I might at the end just try to see if I can like light the fire a little bit just by getting under their skin a little bit because again, a lot of these interviews today are videotape and if the jury can then see that person lose their cool, well, that picture is worth a thousand words. Mark has to decide, when is the right moment to bring up that fatal moment, which is, okay, why did you kill her? Because Byron Howard at that very moment could say, I want my lawyer. We started to talk about the night of the homicide. We asked him, you know, well, if you were there, where were you? And here it was where Byron Howard had a lot to say and he gave not one alibi. He was at a restaurant and then he went to a bar and then he went to visit a friend and he mentioned his friend. He saw his name was to Kobe. You know, Scott, when you hear that there wasn't one alibi, right? He said he was at the bar the entire night, but then he gives these two other albis to like a different restaurant and a friend like, does that make any sense to you? I love that because it's three opportunities to either prove them right or three opportunities to prove them wrong. Remember, there were two sets of investigators working on the homicide case. The Arkansas team and the arson investigator Jim O'Neill and his partner. And they would have a similar opportunity to sit down with Byron Howard. The homicide, we're interviewing him and I was able to watch from another room and then they allowed me to go in because I wanted to get some information from him because he was one of the last people that was in that room at least on the 13th and I wanted to get him to lay out of the room. And I asked him about the snowblower in the basement. He said, why wasn't it kept in the garage while the garage door didn't work? And I said, was there a gasoline container? And he said, yes. And he said, gasoline container was in the basement when he saw it. And I said, what's not there now? He said, well, it must have been scinerated in the fire. Well, the first thing I think of is the fact that he knew where the container was and while that in itself may not be a big point, if he knows what the gas container was, then he probably knows where the battery powered, spoke detector was and the hard wire smoked detector was. And I think if he was familiar enough to know where a can of gases in the basement, he knows where everything in that house is and that locks him into the potential of him having the knowledge of how to disable those two detectors. He looked like a sociopath. I said, if this was an arts and who would do this? And he said, choose a head no enemies. It had to be somebody hooked up with Bernard. For homicide detectors and prosecutors, everything seemed to be going to plan until Byron Howard makes a surprise move. At some point, he said, are you going to arrest me? And I said, no, we're not going to arrest you. And he got off and he opened the door and he ran out of the office, ran down the stairs, and got out into the street and ran by himself with his T-shirt and he left his jacket there and it was snowing. We're like, whoom, interesting. We just got up and ran. The first thing I'm going to say, I'm not making light of any of this, but all I could think about for those of you that see in the movie was like forest gump, like running, running, running. Oh my God. I can't believe you said that. I can't believe you said that. It's just what I pictured. But it is. Because I have the same exact thing. But then on a more serious note, like I picture also just this like running, sweating, mind racing, like cannot get away from that precinct and his thoughts about what he did and if he's going to get caught fast enough and it just says so much. Perhaps he was testing Mark to see if he can actually get up and walk out. He didn't go anywhere. He ran to his house and that's where he stayed. We had bought, checked the house to make sure he was still around, he hadn't left. Or we're going through everything. But it wasn't like this case that anything happened for a while because months actually went by as they started to really dig into the investigative work and that started with the alibis. I was able to determine that he was never going to confess to this crime so I wanted to get his alibi to see if it could be firmed up. So he gave us three places he said he was during the whole incident. We went out and started to interview each one of the places he said he was at. So they started with the first thing he said that he'd been at this restaurant slash bar all night so they went there. There was a restaurant in Main Street and they have a lady's night and I'm not quite sure what it was. He said he was outside in the parking lot drinking and talking to the women and he briefly went inside so we go out to the restaurant. We find the person that was working at night and we show him this picture. We explained to them and he said, well, he said he was here on January 18th all night and he was in here. He goes, he was not here. I said, how do you know that? Because we throw him out when he comes here because his behavior is so bad. He's not allowed in here and if he had been here, I would tell you but he was not here. Alibi 2 was Howard's other reference to another restaurant that he claimed that he was at that night and that would be Mark's next stop. They didn't know him but they looked at their video review and he was not in the restaurant. He had not come in that restaurant that night. They closed before the homicide happened so clearly he wasn't there when that happened. And then the third one was going to be the big one of them all. Then he gave us the friend, Jacobi Bar. Jacobi had an apartment, he had a job and he was a new father. He seemed very nervous but he had an infant in the home. He had like a four or five day old baby that was there. And Mark recognized that he had a lot to lose by potentially lying for Byron Howard. And so detectives brought Jacobi down to the precinct for what would end up being just his first interview. He was our link to the case. He was going to be the person we suspected that was going to either make or break the case based on what he could tell us. Walking in with Jacobi, Marcus hoping that he could provide information that could bring this prime suspect into a clearer picture. But you know what's so interesting is when you have a guy like this who you know is a friend of this person who is their primary person of interest, is this going to end up being a witness or could he maybe even be the trigger man, you know pulling the trigger for his friend. You know we've all heard and read about cases like that. So it's so imperative that you handle this interview just right to at least try to figure out where this guy fits into the mix. We bring him down the office to take a statement from. He kind of verifies that he's there. He's not exactly saying what Byron Howard said but he's you know generally he's giving that impression. So we knew right away that he was being deceptive because he had already talked to other people and they said they weren't there. Detectives did get everything that Jacobi had to say on the record so that the insubsequent later interviews they would be able to have his own words if they change or if they needed to be used against him. But now this is what we have. We have no witnesses. We have all this information. We have a negative statement. We have the alibi verify. We have the deception on the phone. We placed them at the crime scene. We have all these recordings there but we don't have the nail in the coffin so to speak to arrest them. So we take a pause for a little while. You know we're still working on it. We're getting evidence from the lab. Although the murder weapon had not been recovered investigators did have some forensic evidence to tie in that type of gun. Our lab had given us the information on the weapon and I think they provide us a copy of what it may look like. Just in case we found it you know I mean you're like okay you know this way you should be looking for. It was a 22 caliber weapon and the manufacturer of that weapon was a company called Federal. It was a long barrel target weapon and it's not a common handgun ever used in homicides. And what happens is the lab was able to determine that the 22 caliber was used for target practice. So now as this forensic information begins to trickle in and they've even been able to give this stock photograph of this 22 caliber pistol detectives really want to see if they can find that weapon. We start talking to Kobe Barrett. I'm like you know geez you know you got a little baby here and how would you like this as somebody did that to your daughter and you know we're kind of playing out as emotions right there. And his wife was sitting there and she's listening to all this. At this point of the interview with Howard and with Jacobi you have to weigh your risks and your rewards. Clearly Howard was continuing to deny any involvement and prosecutors still wanted more to move forward with him. So your best shot is Jacobi Bar to flip him to become a cooperating witness. But that ask also comes with risks because he just made completely shut down. We're in contact with the district attorney's office. We're trying to set a strategy up to proceed with this. They have to have two components of it. To Kobe cooperates or to Kobe doesn't cooperate. So we have to try to determine the path we're going to take. And so they have to decide what type of attack to use. You know is it going to be you know holding the carrot out there and hoping that he'll you know go and then take a bite or does it need to be a little more tougher a more direct attack and confront him with his own at least potential involvement. So now the next time you go back and talk to him we went to where he worked. He goes yeah it's like having a hot because you want to tell us but you just can't put himself over the line right then and there. So we continue to play the emotion come on you know what I mean this girl is sleeping she's executed you know how crazy is and we're just seeing this stuff like that. Just you know how excited he gets how much rage he gets. They couldn't get him with the carrot and they're going to get him with the stick. And then we said we've right back down the opposite. We have your phone records and you work communicate with them the night this happens. He clamps up and he goes let me think about this. We let him leave because we don't want to blow this we have very very delicate with this okay. I think the plan B was we were going to bring him back for a hard interview with everything we had including the phone records. Let him know your life is in parallel you could go to jail. I mean just all the possibilities you can think of right. That was a strategy we decided on. But before Mark has a chance to bring Jacobi down for yet another interview Jacobi comes in on his own and this time he brought a lawyer. Two days later we're at work and we get a call from the district attorney's office. He's done an attorney is bringing Jacobi bar in to the office right now. And I knew the attorney's reputation this is a very good attorney. He's not going to bring him in to say he's got nothing to do with it. He's going to tell us what happened. Inside an interview room at the district attorney's office Jacobi sat along with his lawyer ready to talk. I knew that strategy we had applied to him worked because he was only coming in to tell us exactly what happened. He brought in an attorney so we know there's some criminal culpability on his part. He's trying to mitigate that by having an attorney come in. You know Scott like this is one of those moments that if you're involved in the case like you know it like you're just sitting on the edge of your seat like wondering like what do you think he's going to say. There's that small part of you that's thinking that he's going to come in to a fuss to the murder okay. That's why he has an attorney because you don't know for sure. Did he do it or was he involved it perfectly by you know providing weapon or after the fact destroying evidence. You know this is one of those interviews that you prepare for and all of your associates are either listening or watching in because everybody wants to know what is it going to be. Jacobi Bar has a lot to lose here. He's a new father. He's got a solid job and it appears he was not going to risk all of that to protect someone else and that is the reason why his lawyer is sitting right next to him. Most likely since they had the district attorney there are the prosecutor they did what's called the king for a day which basically means that anything he says on that day at least in that interview is not going to be used against him except that one caveat for that is always perjury but that's you know a legal lesson for another day. But it is really interesting to know what it is that he's about to dish right here. So you could tell by his demeanor that he definitely had knowledge of what happened. He knew he was in a bind and he couldn't figure a way out and we were giving him a path to come out if he was truthful and honest with us. He tells them everything and some of the information he provides matched what Mark and his team already knew. The factual things he was telling us were backed up by other evidence we had. We had already surmised some of this stuff we had evidence saying he was right. But what Jacobi also tells the police is that he Jacobi provided the gun to Byron Howard. He's got a photograph of the what we show him is this is this look from Erichu because yeah that's the gun I had right there the federal 22 that we had already had the ballistic sign where you gave this to him he suggested it. Investigators were hopeful that Jacobi would be willing to lead them to where the weapon was discarded. We started to probe out the gun did he give it back to you did he tell you where the gun went because we're trying to recover he goes no he's there but I had bullets nice through them out out of my backyard on the lawn. And that could be key remember we did have three shell casings that were recovered they could match up those found casings with the bullets that he leads investigators right to. So we went right to the house and I found the box and there were bullets scattered all across the lawn and he thrown out of his house. I think he thought we're going to do a search warrant in his house so he was trying to get rid of it. And so now with that evidence in hand and presumably a deal in place with Jacobi for his honest cooperation that they can now use this in court for whatever deal he made for his own participation now mark another investigators finally have what they need to make an arrest. With the arrest warrant in hand the team heads over to Howard's home to affect the arrest but the next scene plays out like a bad movie. I was with an other attractive and he was in the backyard and we tell him we're here to arrest him we got the handcuffed out he's holding a baby it's not his but he's holding a baby. Now he tries to fight with us with the baby in his arms so we've got him we're trying to get him cuffed he's angry and trying to get away but he's got a baby in his arm. But he won't let the baby go in fact he begins to get agitated moving away not allowing the officers handcuff him basically putting the baby in between him and the arresting officers. How do you go about something like that when he has this baby clutching it in his arms? I think it goes back to my talk about verbal judo it's de-escalating a situation before it gets worse. I mean you subject doesn't want to comply and you're using your voice to explain to him how it's going to go and the end result is going to be that you're going to be in custody but why should anybody else get hurt especially a baby? No and it was just no other way to say you know we're here you're under arrest put the baby down and we're going to handcuff him and he's like no and he's like pulling away so we had to forcefully hold him and I had to remove the baby from he was holding it right to his chest and it was you know it was very uncomfortable because at that point I'm not really worried about him I'll know if he gets away we'll find him we need to take care of this baby so we got the baby I put the baby on the grass and then you know we had moved him away and got him on the ground and we were able to cuff him eventually he did not go easy I mean it was a struggle the entire time to get the cops locked out. Howard was in a rage the entire way back to the station and Mark made an assessment right there that they weren't going to get any further as far as a statement with him. We did we just processed them and took them over to the holding center. You know Scott I love that piece because it's almost like now he's flipped that switch like this is the thing that made this guy blow similarly to whatever made him blow to lead those voice messages and presumably to commit these you know heinous crimes like he's done it here and I would love well they probably didn't have that videotape it's certainly like that evidence in court to his demeanor and that rage that they experienced first hand on the way to the precinct. Yeah I'd love to see that argument in court between the defense attorney and the prosecutor about allowing that to get into evidence in front of a potential jury or in a bench trial and I think it would it would go right in and the jury could determine the weight if any to give it but like you said whether it's a judge or a jury like just to let them see it themselves and they can assess if that has any evidentiary value in the crime that he's now being charged with. Yeah and there's a really good step that comes after the arrest is when Mark actually gets to go out to both victims families and tell them that in fact the person that they believed was likely involved in this double homicide was in custody and would stand trial. If you're a homicide detective and you do a death notification the reaction of the people is I used to say that you could feel the air go out of the room when you told somebody they're relative to that because that's how shocking it is right so it's nice for me to go to somebody's house and say hey not going to door hey you know what we arrested Byron Howard we were able to determine he actually killed Chasah and he killed Bernard. When I was reading the file I talked about what Byron Howard's next move would be and it would be not to be trial by jury but a bench trial trial by judge and and a see it's not a very normal or usual move made in a homicide trial. No I mean I've only done you know a few of them ever of like various homicide cases I've hand usually everyone is going to roll the dice with a jury because then it has to be unanimous for 12 people you know if one person says they're not sure or they don't see it that way well that's it game over you're going to end up with an acquittal or at least a hung jury and have to have the prosecutor do it all over again but you know usually when you see these trial by judge it is because of what they think might be a bias or an emotional element you know sometimes you see it with police officers that they will choose a judge saying that they really want someone that is going to put emotion completely off the table and just deal with illegal nuances but I thought it was an interesting and as you said Scott an unusual move in this case. The judge was a well respected judge in law enforcement so we just kind of thought this is going to go well for us if everything gets introduced properly and everybody testifies properly it's going to be a good verdict for us. Also helping the prosecution in this case in a very big way was the testimony of their star witness Jacoby Barr. It's Jacoby test my trial and his defense attorney attacked him and tried to portray him as the actual killer. Mark also testified during the trial and when he did that courtroom was packed with family law enforcement and even other prosecutors. There was a lot of interest in this case on both families but also from you know some law enforcement people and some other discontent because it's unusual to have a first-degree murder case. So there were two discontenties that were there doing the trial and you know that's not that uncommon in these bigger or more complex cases because this is how we learn by seeing what's happening in court and for other people and just to see how certain things are going to play out in the courtroom and hopefully we learn things ourselves for the next time and if we are ever confronted with those similar circumstances at our own cases. And from the bench the judge gave his verdict guilty and a few weeks later that judge handed down Byron Howard sentence. The only sentenceding guy line was 99 years to life in each count. The judge just gave the verdict out 99 years of life in each count and it was satisfying to me that that happened because we really had nothing when we got there and then you find out that that our victim Chasahakans was just a wonderful person who was taking care of her special needs this nurse. She had a son she was raising and she had gotten into new relationship and they were very happy and now this guy is in jail for 400 years. This was my only first-degree murder case that I investigated the entire time I was at a homicide squad. I felt really good about how it had gone. There are those cases as an investigator where you're beginning with a blank canvas. You have minimal evidence, minimal clues and no clear suspects and then there are those cases where you have evidence and a suspect very early on but connecting that evidence with that suspect is a slow arduous task. One that takes years to complete. It's fair to say that Mark and Jim were all in unsolving this double homicide. Tune in next week for another new episode of Anatomy of Murder. Anatomy of Murder is an audio chuck original produced and created by wineburger media and for steady media. Ashley Flowers and Submit David are executive producers. So what do you think Chuck? Do you approve?